Peter Sagan? Casual followers of the sport who tune in for the Tour de France rather than the whole season can be forgiven for thinking Sagan’s team kit is green given spends he spends most of July in the maillot vert and he’s won it five times in a row.
So another verdant victory? Probably but this year’s route offers more stages to the pure sprinters than usual allowing a dominant sprinter to rack up points ahead of a consistent Sagan. Here’s a look at the competition, the points scale, the stages and the likely challengers for the green jersey and the sprint stages.
First let’s look at the points available. They’re weighted towards the flat stages as a means to make the green jersey for the best sprinters:
- Flat stages (Stages 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 16, 21) 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3 and 2 points for the first 15 riders
- Hill finish/Medium mountain stages (Stages 3, 5, 8, 14, 15, 19): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
- Mountain Stages (Stages 9, 12, 13, 17, 18): 20-17-15-13-11- 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
- Individual time trial stages (Stages 1 and 20): 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
The scale is the same as last year but of course the route is not. This time there are nine flat finishes perfect for the sprinters, more than last year. Also there are are fewer “Sagan” stages with only Stage 3 to Longwy and Stage 14 to Rodez offering the kind of uphill finishes where Sagan can bank on scoring beaucoup while the sprinters struggle with gravity. So we have more stages for the pure sprinters and fewer for Sagan. To illustrate with a hypothetical example, imagine if Marcel Kittel wins three stages and Sagan places third each time, the German is on 50 x 3 = 150 points, Sagan 20 x 3 = 60 points and if the Slovak won three intermediate sprints he’d get 20 x 3 = 60 points, so still behind Kittel. Still, they’ve changed the scoring before to make the competition closer and Sagan has still run away with it, each time the goalposts move he adapts. Last year he took 470 points with Marcel Kittel on 228.
Rather than asking whether Peter Sagan can win, let’s ask what can stop him? Not easy, in the event of bad luck then if there’s someone who can pull out an emergency save to avoid crashing surely it’s Sagan? On more objective grounds he wasn’t as convincing as usual in the Tour de Suisse, losing in Cham and Bern in finishes normally perfect for him… even if he later when on to win two stages which closes down these doubts.
If not what, then who? Michael Matthews can do plenty of what Sagan does and then some more. Perhaps Matthews isn’t as consistently quick in a bunch sprint but he can climb better and even take points in a time trial stage. However the Australian, now with Team Sunweb, has his work cut out and surely the goal is a good opening time trial, some time bonuses and a spell in yellow before in the Planche des Belles Filles; if not then a stage win along the way and see what comes with the points.
Marcel Kittel (Quick Step) is in form with a stage win in the Ster ZLM and he could have had another were it not for a mechanical during a sprint, he was even second in the prologue too. He comes with a big sprint train to help and in case extra motivation is needed his contract is up. He’s been underpaid and (brace your jaw) earning half of what Nacer Bouhanni collects, the price to pay to get out of his previous contract. Remember the points system is weighted to the stage winner so if Kittel can get some multiple wins the points will follow but you sense he’s after multiple stage wins, the rest is a bonus and besides as we saw last year he can be beaten regularly.
There’s talk 29 year old Kittel is slowing with age but no worries for André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) who will turn 35 this July and maintains a record of winning at least one stage in every grand tour he’s ridden since 2008, a run that is bound to end the more often its cited and he was close last year winning on the Champs Elysées. He’s sometimes handy in the hills too, or at least courageous enough to try and attack on a mountain stage to mop up an intermediate sprint but like the others surely stage wins come first.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) won four stages last year but by the time he left the race in Bern he was still over a hundred points behind Sagan so accumulating stage wins is necessary but not sufficient to wear green. This year even one win would be nice for the Manxman because he’s been out with mononucleosis. The well-informed Cycling Podcast suggests he might retire from the race before the mountains too as he tries to get closer to Merckx’s stage tally.
Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo) is pure sprinter hunting for his first big win, so far a stage in the Eneco Tour is the best line on his palmarès but you sense it’s a matter of time until he wins a Tour stage. Again a stage win is the target.
Alexander Kristoff is having a difficult year with contractual concerns putting his future with Katusha in doubt and fewer results than usual, especially in big races. But he’s been close, often and it won’t take much for him to pop up and take stage win, especially in one of the pure flat dragstrip finishes.
Is Arnaud Démare (FDJ) a sprinter? He can still become a classics contender but packs a powerful finish, able to launch long sprint with a big gear after being launched by his team, rather a snappy high torque twist in the final 50 metres after surfing the wheels. He could win a stage or two but if his sprint style is powerful, it’s one dimensional so replicating the success of the recent Dauphiné amid the hurly-burly of the Tour is his challenge.
Nacer Bouhanni has that versatility, his problem is form because he took a long time to recover from concussion after a hard crash in the Tour de Yorkshire. He was a contender in the Dauphiné but no more however he trains hard and wasn’t far off Démare in the French championships so he should finally start the Tour in reasonable shape, an improvement on previous fiascos. All he needs is one stage win to end Cofidis’s long drought, they haven’t won since 2008.
John Degenkolb came close last year but his horrific training crash last year still seems to hamper him, once a prolific winner now he’s finding it harder to convert regular top-10 placings into wins. But he’s good in a straight sprint and versatile for those uphill finishes too.
Ben Swift (UAE Emirates), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Patrick Bevin (Cannondale-Drapac) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) are riders capable of challenging Sagan, Matthews and Degenkolb in the sprints and on the hilly finishes too but need some luck. Swift, Colbrelli and Bevin are versatile but yet to win a grand tour stage although that’s partly because they’ve had few chances so far while Boasson Hagen doesn’t get the results he used to enjoy.
Among others sprinters Dan McClay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) is waiting for a breakthrough win and his team would be happy with a top-3, Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) is a lead-out expert tasked with sprinting in the absence of Bryan Coquard but track specialist Thomas Boudat could sprint too. Michael Albasini and Jens Keukeleire bring sprint options for Orica-Scott even if the Aussies are chasing the GC this year.
- early editions of the Tour de France were based on points rather than time
- On the Tour’s 50th anniversary the points concept was revived and the classement par points was launched in 1953 with a green jersey
- Why green? Because it was the corporate tone of La Belle Jardinière, a clothing shop in Paris and the original competition sponsor
- It’s always been green except for a red edition in 1968
- Erik Zabel holds the record with six wins, often collecting the prize on the Champs Elysées with his son Rick… who now starts this year’s Tour with Katusha
- Peter Sagan is second with five wins
- It’s a points competition and not the “sprinters’ jersey” but only two overall winners have won green too, Eddy Merckx (1969, 1971, 1972) and Bernard Hinault (1979)