A trick question? Peter Sagan was such a convincing winner of the Tour de France points competition last year that it’s hard to imagine anyone else winning. He’s taken the green jersey home four years in a row and even when they changed the rules to tilt the competition against him last year he still won.
So why ask the question? Because it’s still worth posing and also gives us the chance to assess his rivals. Above all if last year’s rule tweak was anti-Sagan, this year’s route is too. Here’s a closer look at the competition from the points scale to the likely scorers.
Points are awarded at the finish and the intermediate sprints. The points available vary according to the stages and are heavily tilted to the sprint finishes, there is next to no chance that the eventual winner is a GC contender.
- Flat stages / Coefficient 1: 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3 and 2 points for the first 15 riders
- Hilly finish-Medium mountain stages / Coefficient 2 and 3: 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
- Mountain Stages / Coefficient 4 and 5: 20-17-15-13-11- 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
- Individual time trial stages / Coefficient 6 : 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
- Intermediate sprints: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
What’s different this year is that there are nine Coefficient 1 stages compared to six last year and there are four Coefficient 2 and 3 stages for 2016 compared to seven last year. This makes the 2016 route more binary: either a flat sprint finish or a mountain stage. There are fewer Saganesque stages, those hilly stages that were too much for the other sprinters.
Peter Sagan‘s chances are still high. If they built a wall to stop him he’d ride straight though it like a cartoon character leaving a hole in the shape of a cyclist. If there are more sprint finishes than last year that’s fine as he was sprinting with the best in the Tour de Suisse, albeit the best in that race a relatively weak contest compared to the mouthwatering sprint royale contests to come in July. It’s this competition that could help, perversely Sagan’s best hope for green could be his rivals. It’s better for Sagan that the likes of Greipel, Kittel, Kristoff, Bouhanni and Cavendish all pop up for a win rather than one single rider repeatedly scoring maximum points. Meanwhile Sagan can aim to place regularly and then score and even win on the few days when the others cannot, say, in Cherbourg, Le Lioran, Revel and Culoz. Having won the contest four times already though you wonder if he’s bored by it all, or at least if he’d swap green for that elusive stage win? For all his consistency in recent years he hasn’t won a stage since 2013.
Michael Matthews is in search of Tour de France glory and a better nickname. He’s won stages of the Giro and Vuelta and is a challenger for the points competition because of his versatility. Everything Sagan can do, Matthews will want to copy. The Australian can contest bunch sprints and win uphill finishes but, like the rest of the peloton, lacks the inventive genius of Sagan when it comes to exploiting terrain and street furniture. They’re both born in 1990 and in head-to-head sprint contests the advantage is massively towards Sagan. Like Sagan he’ll also have to share a team with broader ambitions as Orica-Greenedge back Adam Yates for the overall and aim for stage wins elsewhere too.
If the Critérium du Dauphiné is a form guide for the Tour de France then Edvald Boasson Hagen is ready for July. He took a stage and won the points competition earlier this month and is another versatile rider who can contest bunch sprints, infiltrate breakaways and take uphill finishes. That said he wasn’t flying in the Dauphiné in the same way Sagan was in Suisse, there were days when you might have expected the Boasson Hagen of old to strike but he was missing, for example finishing 94th in the first uphill finish to Chalmazel. He’s also got to share opportunities with Dimension Data team mate Mark Cavendish which suggests stage hunting rather than going for green.
Bryan Coquard is another sprinter who floats over the hills, Le Coq weighs less than 60 kilos. This puts him in the bracket with Matthews and Sagan but his results don’t match, he’s yet to win a World Tour race, pecking on a diet of races on the French calendar instead. Still he’s two years younger than them. In 2014 he kept chasing points throughout the Tour de France when Sagan had an insurmountable lead because for him finishing second to Sagan was a result and besides Sagan could have quit the race ill or with a crash. Green seems unlikely but he and his team will sign for a stage win.
Among the pure sprinters Marcel Kittel leads the charge. Absent last year, he’s still enjoyed a strong record in the Tour de France and has had an excellent season so far this year, settling into the Quickstep sprint train with first class ease. He’ll hope to score 50 points several times over, just one stage win for him brings in more points than two third places for Sagan; win several stage wins and he can pull out a big lead. Easier said than done, his bulk means the mountains take their toll on him, which part explains his departure in the Giro. Riders don’t quit the Tour de France in the same way they bailed on the Giro, at least not the sprinters who can dream of Paris rather than Rio…
…with the exception of Mark Cavendish and his track ambitions. But this surely precludes him from winning the green jersey? The yellow jersey on the opening day is an alluring target for him, it’s one of the few prizes in the sport that’s eluded him. He could take this, especially if he can harness added power from his track training. The demands of the Omnium and its intense events like the Kilo impose a burden to port across the Alps in the third week. It’s not certain he makes it to Paris given his Olympic ambitions.
André Greipel won four stages of the Tour last year, a surprise as he always pops up for a stage win in a grand tour but not so many. Age doesn’t seem to be slowing him down and he’ll turn 34 during the Tour. He won three stages of the Giro before bailing out, there could have been more if he’d stayed on but he wanted to rest and restart for the Tour de France. Last year he came to the Tour de France having stormed the Ster ZLM Tour with two stages wins and tenth place in the prologue, his ride there was less strong this year but he was still active and has just won the German national title outsprinting Max Walscheid and Marcel Kittel.
Alexander Kristoff enjoyed a great season last year only to come up short in July where his best place in a sprint was third. He should do better here but he can lack that top-end speed, it’s why he’s so strong in the classics when the weather’s foul and stamina counts for so much after six hours of racing. A challenge for the green jersey looks hard, for him and Katusha a pair of stage wins will do nicely. He’s a powerful sprinter who likes to start his sprint earlier than most which, points wise, means if he gets overtake in the final metres he’s still going to collect points.
Nacer Bouhanni isn’t starting. A fist-fight with drunken hotel guests lead to him cutting his hand open and it being stitched together at 5am on the morning of the French national championships which he then rode and his bandaged hand got a severe infection and he’s now out
is one of the few riders outside of the World Tour teams who can win the World Tour sprints as his successes in Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné, Giro and Vuelta show. He can cope with a climb and an uphill finish as his Milan-Sanremo podium shows or his 10th place in the hilly Ponferrada World Championships too. Success in the Tour de France remains elusive for him but this won’t stop him trying and the French phrase ça passe ou ça casse applies, make or break and for Bouhanni sprinting, even life, can be combat.
Finally a few more names to look out for. John Degenkolb is still finding his way back from injury and the finger splint he sports makes changing gears and braking more awkward, especially given his headbanging sprint style which surely requires the firmest grip of the bars, . Julian Alaphilippe has contested bunch sprints before but with Kittel he won’t need to and can save himself for more suitable stages. Dylan Groenewegen will be flying the Dutch flag this year in the sprints and he’s impressed a lot this year with his power and leg speed but this is his first grand tour and he’s yet to race in the Alps and Pyrenees.
|André Greipel, Marcel Kittel|
|Bouhanni, Coquard, Boasson Hagen|
A fifth win for Sagan? It’s likely but this year’s route won’t give him so many opportunities to earn points on the days when the other sprinters cannot. Should a sprinter like Kittel or Greipel collect multiple stage wins they can build up a lead and maybe keep the competition going all the way to Paris. It’s still an ancillary competition, the primary goal for all is stage wins. The next big question is whether Sagan can finally win a stage after two Tours without a victory celebration?