MONACO (AP), George Hincapie helped Lance Armstrong win seven straight Tour de France titles and believes his old friend could surprise a lot of people this year.
Back competing after 3¬Ω years of retirement, Armstrong will start his first Tour since 2005 on Saturday, in the opening and difficult time trial in Monaco. Many cycling experts are writing off the 37-year-old cancer survivor. But not Hincapie.
"I think he has got very good possibilities," Hincapie said on Friday. "He has trained very hard, he says he is feeling good. It's going to be exciting, but I cannot predict what he will do. I wouldn't put anything past him."
Hincapie, who spent the greatest years of his career working for Armstrong, now rides for the Columbia-High Road team, while Armstrong is with the Astana squad and using his comeback to raise awareness about cancer.
"I'm excited to see how he will do," Hincapie said. "He is the one guy that really doesn't have to be here, he is just doing it for a cause. I support his effort and I wish him the best."
Armstrong's main obstacle in his quest for an eighth Tour win is expected to be teammate Alberto Contador, the 2007 champion considered the "clear-cut favorite" by Armstrong himself.
"I don't know (their relationship), but I assume it's good because they have to eat dinner everyday and every night, and breakfast, and they have to be in the same team, so it's important they have a good relationship and I assume they do," Hincapie said.
Hincapie, who won his only individual Tour stage in a mountain stage of the 2005 Tour, would love to add another line to his record before retiring in "another year or two."
"Last year I was close at one of the hardest mountain stages, I just messed up the descent a little bit, so if I'm in the right breakaway, I think it's definitely possible," he said.
RIDERS REWARDS: The average salary of professional riders rose from $98,550 a year in 2002 to $191,470 in 2009, according to figures released by cycling's governing body, the UCI.
The increases were considerable for riders in the elite UCI ProTeams, where incomes rose from $140,786 in 2002 to $267,493 in 2009.
"This means that the majority of riders on UCI ProTeams have a good, or indeed very good, salary," the federation said.
JAPANESE DUO: Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu are joining the very small roster of Japanese cyclists who have ridden the Tour de France.
This Tour is the first where two Japanese cyclists will ride in the same year. The previous Japanese riders at the Tour were Daisuke Imanaka in 1996 and Kisso Kawamuro in 1926-1927.
Arashiro and Beppu are also promoting Tokyo's bid to organize the Olympic Games in 2016.
"I used to watch the heroes of the Tour de France when I was a kid and I am proud to be here this year to follow their path", said Beppu, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong.
"Young people need heroes and I'm confident Tokyo 2016 will deliver fantastic Games which will enable elite athletes to reach their peak performances in the best possible environment."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.