British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton believes the loss of Sir Bradley Wiggins for the Tour de France will “massively” weaken Team Sky but lift a weight off the shoulders of lead rider Chris Froome.
Defending Tour champion Wiggins yesterday withdrew from the line-up for this year's race, which begins in four weeks' time on June 29, after a chest infection and a knee injury left him unable to train.
Britain's first winner of cycling's greatest race had been lined up for a support role by his team this year, with Froome the man Team Sky are looking to secure the yellow jersey.
Sutton, who stood down as head coach of Team Sky in January and now serves as a performance adviser to the squad, is tipping Wiggins to bounce back from the disappointment of being unable to compete.
"This is a great loss to Team Sky. They will have been weakened by the loss of Wiggins massively, whether he was there to win the Tour or play a support role as Froome did for him last year," Sutton told BBC Radio Five Live.
"Team Sky will be weakened but I'm sure Froomey will be breathing a lot easier. It takes away that threat of your team-mate actually beating you, and I think he'll be really up for it now.
"Unfortunately you've got two of the best bike riders in the world on the same team and Froomey will be there thinking, 'This is my opportunity, I need to seize on it', and I'm sure he'll do well.
"Froome goes in as red-hot favourite to win the Tour and possibly the only guy that could have beaten him would have been Bradley."
Sir Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal and British Cycling performance director, last night said he had no doubt Wiggins would put the setback behind him, and Sutton goes along with that verdict.
"It's a tough period for him right now but I'm sure he'll bounce back," Sutton said.
"It's one of the toughest sports in the world and no doubt the toughest sporting event in the world, and if you're not 100 per cent on your game you've got to be honest with yourself and look in the mirror and make that decision.
"He's done that, and to reiterate what Dave said last night I'm pretty sure that Brad will bounce back."
Sutton believes he should target the rainbow jersey, on offer to winners at September's World Championships in Toscana.
He added: "There are other goals out there for him before the end of the season and one that he's never achieved is the rainbow jersey in the individual time trial which he won so convincingly in London (at the Olympics), and I'd like to think he'd put his mind to that possibly and go on to be world champion at the end of the year."