Peter Sagan looks like an obvious contender to win the points competition. In recent years the sight of him in the green jersey has become as much a cliché of the Tour de France as images of the peloton riding past a field of sunflowers. If he wins his sixth green jersey he will equal the record set by Erik Zabel in 2001.
Sagan has competition, a route that doesn’t help him as much as usual and a points scale tilted against him. Here’s a closer look at the competition, the points system and the sprinters as Dylan Groenwegen and Fernando Gaviria as the new generation looking to take on the establishment.
Points scale: This is a competition that takes shape over time. Few riders set out to win it from the start, they want stage wins first and foremost and then the green jersey will follow. Still look to those contesting the intermediate sprints in the opening days and those who sit them out to save energy for an indication of personal priorities. Let’s look at the points available each day:
- Flat stages (Stages 1,2,4,7,8,13,18,21) 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 (Stages 5,6,9,14,15,16): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
- Mountain Stages + individual TT (Stages 10,11,12,17,19, 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
This winner-takes-all aspect rewards winning the big bunch sprints. The scale is the same as last year and there are eight flat finishes which are perfect for the sprinters, one less than last year. The “Sagan” stages where he can score when others can’t aren’t so obvious, there’s Stage 5 to Quimper and Stage 6 at Mûr de Bretagne and then only Stage 15 to Carcassonne and even then the Pic de Nore is a mouthful to chew on, so he’ll have to contest the intermediate sprints too, including the mountains. To illustrate with a hypothetical example, imagine Dylan Groenewegen wins three stages and Sagan places third each time, the Dutchman is on 50 x 3 = 150 points, Sagan 20 x 3 = 60 points and if the Slovak won three intermediate sprints uncontested by Groenewegen he’d get 20 x 3 = 60 points: still 30 points behind. Sagan’s hope here is strength in diversity in that if Groenewegen wins 50 points one day, Greipel wins the next day and Gaviria the next such that no one sprinter runs away with the competition.
Having mentioned the maths, a quick look at Peter Sagan‘s status. He’s got a team in his service, Bora-Hansgrohe have just the riders he needs for a Tour stage (the classics are another matter) to guide him into position and there’s no cohabitation with another sprinter like Ackermann or Bennett, just climber Rafał Majka. They’ve worked well together as team mates, look at the 2016 Tour and Stage 17 to the Emosson Dam when Sagan joined the early break to tow it clear, helping Majka’s chances. The form seems good, he won a habitual stage in the Tour de Suisse although not the usual multiple stage wins and took the Slovakian national title after a solo breakaway for almost the entire length of the race. Even the UCI commissaires get zealous this time, the upshot of last year’s exclusion is there will be a dedicated video commissaire from the UCI to review TV coverage (and social media too so the GIF that keeps on giving could possibly absolve or condemn a rider) so decisions should be more informed.
Michael Matthews won the jersey last year, helped by Sagan’s exclusion. Marcel Kittel was wearing the jersey too but fell in the Alps and the Australian was closing in on him too. Still how to beat Sagan? The Slovak seems a touch faster in the sprints although in a direct contest from the breakaway Matthews is one of the rare riders to have outfoxed him (Stage 10 to Revel in 2016) and Matthews can potentially outclimb Sagan too, handy for the two climbs at Mûr-de-Bretagne this year where Sagan has placed… but only when they’ve gone over once, this year the race climbs it once before finishing the second time. Matthews has team support too with Nikias Arndt and Søren Kragh Andersen.
Fernando Gaviria is the new rival to Sagan. The Colombian took four stages of the Giro and the points jersey last year and is a versatile rider: fast enough to win dragstrip sprints, light enough to thrive in a hillier finish such as Stage 13 which takes a few sharp climbs just before reaching Valence. Quick Step offer plenty of support with warhorse Max Richeze as a specialist lead out but no Michael Mørkøv. So far, so good but he hasn’t won a sprint in Europe this year although breaking his hand in Tirreno-Adriatico explains plenty. However it’s his first time at the Tour and if he can take stage wins, hustling Sagan for intermediate sprints in the mountains isn’t something he’s used to.
Next come several sprinters. In recent years we’ve seen all the stars in the Tour de France only for one rider to dominate: Marcel Kittel took
four five stage wins last year, Mark Cavendish four in 2016, André Greipel had four in 2015 and Kittel also four in 2014. There were no clues this would happen each time but if someone can establish a winning streak they’re going to collect beaucoup points. Kittel returns but has had a torrid season, two stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and it’s been the manner of his losses, sometimes in the mix but often out of the picture too. Katusha offer support with Rick Zabel a familiar lead out but not yet a feared one.
Dylan Groenewegen is on the up. He won on the Champs Elysées last year and has won a sprint in every stage race he’s done this year, including Paris-Nice (pictured) where he took on a frantic finish and an uphill rise to the line to win with ease, he’s become a lot more than a dragstrip specialist. Lotto-Jumbo have two GC riders but bring Timo Roosen and Amund Grøndahl Jansen as lead out.
What can Mark Cavendish do? Expectations are lower given the last two seasons have been marred by mononucleosis and many crashes. There’s the nagging sense his powers are waning but write him off today and you might as well start marinating a hat in case you’re forced to eat soon. Still, just one stage win would be a big return for him, let alone another four to equal Eddy Merckx’s tally of 34. He’s likely to focus solely on the stage wins and not contest the intermediate sprints.
André Greipel had an amazing streak of winning a stage of every grand tour he started since 2008 but this ended last July. The friendly giant seems to be slowing but also had personal problems last year that would have been a big distraction. Now the other worry for him is his contract but this is a smaller concern, a stage win would do nicely. Still he finished second in the points competition last year, he’s consistent and persistent.
Alexander Kristoff is another of the big name sprinters but he hasn’t won in the Tour de France since 2014 despite trying every year since. He’s come close but if you want a banker for those 50 points on offer he’s not the most reassuring pick, especially as UAE-Emirates are not backing him with a luxurious train.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Sonny Colbrelli did well on points last year finishing third and fifth respectively in the final classification. Colbrelli is getting better but the aim has to be a stage win, the same for EBH but what will the Norwegian do with Cavendish, if he is helping the Manx then he’ll forsake points. Arnaud Démare got a stage win in the Tour de Suisse beating all the sprinters. For him the green jersey looks elusive, just making Paris is the goal with a stage win along the way. John Degenkolb is more than a sprinter, after all he’s won Paris-Roubaix, so he can contest for the green jersey too but given the competition he might prefer to let others fight for it so he can save energy and try to win a sprint or maybe infiltrate a breakaway. The horrific accident of 2016 still looms large, he’s had wins since but needs a big one.
What chance for someone like Julian Alaphilippe who is an all rounder? Low because he’ll stay out of the way of Gaviria in the sprints and the scale is tilted towards the likely bunch sprint stages; which is why the GC contenders won’t feature, even if a rider like Alejandro Valverde places high a lot they won’t accumulate enough points.
|Fernando Gaviria, Dylan Groenewegen|
- 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 Parisian department store 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 starts the race for the second time with Katusha
- Peter Sagan is second with five wins
- Strictly speaking it’s the points competition and not the “sprinters’ jersey” but only two overall winners have ever won green as well, Eddy Merckx of course (1969, 1971, 1972) and Bernard Hinault (1979)