Here’s a closer look at the Tour de France’s points competition and the contenders for the green jersey. Peter Sagan’s owned this competition for years now and he’s hard to see past when it comes to winning again. This blog doesn’t need to hype up rivals to sell the contest but we can still explore the points, route and rivals because there are a few subtle changes this year.
The Points scale: Points are awarded at the finish line and at one intermediate sprint point per stage. The points vary according to the stage to tilt the competition to the sprinters, yes it’s strictly the speaking the points competition but the sprinters’ jersey is a reasonable and deliberate label:
- Flat stages (Stages 1,4,7,11,16, 17 & 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 3,5,8,9,10 & 12): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
- Mountain Stages + individual TT (Stages 6,13,14,15,18,19 & 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
The Route: if the scale is the same as the last year, the difference is the route this year with more “Sagan” stages with hills in the finale to disrupt the pure sprinters. Arguably only five stages offer a finale without a hurdle of sorts for the sprinters. So it’s advantage Sagan here because if there’s a hill he’ll be fine. Also the mountains come with the same tight time limits as last year too where several sprinters were eliminated.
That said, there’s been a tweak to the design as the intermediate sprint each day seem to have been carefully placed, especially on the mountain stages where most come early in the stage, often very early like the example above from Stage 20 shows. This means a pure sprinter should still be present to contest them. Often they’ve come mid-stage in the mountains allowing Sagan, and others in the past like Thor Hushovd, to distance the pure sprinters on the climbs and score at the intermediate point. But for 2019 this part of the route design leaves a door open to the pure sprinters to score points but still, how many sprinters fancy a big effort just before tackling a mountain pass, to start their day in the red?
Now to the contenders. Peter Sagan has won the points competition six times and if he can win this time he’ll set the absolute record, surpassing Erik Zabel. In seven starts he’s won six times and the only time he didn’t make it was down to the commissaires, not his rivals. He’s had a quiet season so far but we saw vintage Sagan in the recent Tour de Suisse where he was sprinting with the best suggesting the speed is there and bumping rivals off their leadout trains which shows the authority and confidence is too. Bora-Hansgrohe have ambitions with Max Schachmann and Emanuel Buchman too but bring seasoned support riders like Daniel Oss and Marcus Burghardt.
If the pure sprinters find the route awkward, the points scale is still in their favour. For example if Sagan finishes 3rd and 5th in two bunch sprints while a someone else is on a winning streak then they’re going to score points a plenty. Here Caleb Ewan could be the most versatile option because he’s excellent in a dragstrip finish thanks to that aero position but he’s also handy in an uphill run and can cope with a climb or two. But again if Ewan is to score more than Sagan he’ll have to target the green jersey early, hustling for the intermediate sprints rather than just aiming for stage wins and seeing what comes as a result once he’s bagged a stage or two.
Dylan Groenewegen can cope with a climb too but is probably not as versatile as Ewan, instead he’s more suited to winning the pure sprint stages and, excepting the Eneco Tour, he’s won a stage in every stage race he’s done for the best part of two years now. However when he was beaten by Ewan in the ZLM Tour last week he seemed to spend minutes stretching his back. Hopefully it was just a long day in the saddle and the agony of defeat and he’s fine now. He’ll share a Jumbo-Visma team with GC ambitions but this worked out fine before. Again if he gets a winning streak – and these things happen, see Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel in recent years – then he can rack up points.
Michael Matthews has won the competition before, in the year when Sagan was disqualified from the race and then when Marcel Kittlel fell ill in the Alps. Still “to finish first, first finish” and the Australian can float over climbs that others will grind up, Sunweb could even make a point of putting the hurt on just to eliminate sprinters. Indeed he is versatile to the point of bemoaning he’d been working hard to become a valuable helper for Tom Dumoulin at Sunweb rather than sharpening his sprint. But he’s had time to practice sprinting again, maybe enough to win from a smaller group rather than a bunch sprint though. If Sagan doesn’t make it then he could again inherit the jersey.
Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is a good pick to win the opening stage but can he keep winning and then stay in the race across the mountains? His Giro didn’t go to plan but now he gets his preferred leadout of Michael Mørkøv and Max Richeze and if has a track background he can handle 5-10 minute climbs well. It’s possible to imagine team mate Julian Alaphilippe winning mid-mountain and high mountain stages alike and racking up points this way but he’s limited here as if he took mountain stages he’d only collect 40 points, still 10 short of one flat stage.
Among the others Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) surely starts aiming to win a stage win and could forgo the intermediate sprints in this goal… but was second to Sagan last year, but hundreds of points behind. Once upon a time Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) would have been a contender but he’s an infrequent winner these days which means his chances are reduced. Greg van Avermaet (CCC) is after a stage and consistent across a lot of terrains but unlikely to score high in the set-piece bunch sprints.
Lastly there’s Wout van Aert who on paper can probably do most of what Sagan does. After all he’s good on short climbs and won a bunch sprint in the Critérium Dauphiné last month. Jumbo-Visma may give him carte blanche for some days but it’s hard to see van Aert challenging for green on a team that already has to juggle the ambitions of Groenewegen and Kruijswijk and making it to Paris and learning along the way is a legitimate goal even if his talent is capable of plenty more.
|Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen|
|Elia Viviani, Wout van Aert|
Comment: it’s hard to see past Peter Sagan as he’s won this competition by a large margin every year, often with 100 points, sometimes 200 which means he’s stages ahead. But nothing is certain across three weeks of racing, a hard crash down the Col de Val Louron last year almost saw him leave and despite his handling skills is not immune to accidents and misfortune. His biggest challenge will come if a sprinter like Groenewegen, Ewan or Viviani enjoys a winning streak and amasses 50 points after 50 points… but this should only make Sagan react by going on more raids in the mountains… which will incite the sprinters to contest the intermediate sprints which seemed placed to suit them. Hopefully there’s a closer contest and without the likes of Marcel Kittel, Fernando Gaviria, Mark Cavendish and more, the sprints are a little less royale so Ewan, Viviani and Groenewegen should score plenty as there are fewer rivals to dilute their chances.
Why green? Because it was the corporate tone of Belle Jardinière, a Parisian department store and the original competition sponsor. It was once red in 1960s but has been green ever since and is sponsored by auto manufacturer Skoda, whose branding today includes green.