Tour de France Sprinters and Green Jersey Contenders

Who’s got the muscle, the bustle and the hustle for the Tour de France sprints… and the mental arithmetic for the points competition. Peter Sagan can target an eighth green jersey, his hardest challenge yet as the route suits the pure sprinters. If Caleb Ewan can start a winning streak then he can be in green and it’s the prospect of a contest that is the most exciting.

Learning to count
It’s the points competition, not the “sprinter’s jersey” but a true pedant knows the system is heavily tilted to reward sprinters, plus the route is very sprinter-friendly. This year there are eight finishes accessible to all the sprinters, of these Stage 12 to Nîmes has an unmarked late climb but none are a “Sagan stage”, with a big climb to eject sprinters, nor a “Wout van Aert” kind of uphill finish although if it’s windy the field could be thinned down on several stages. So a sprinter who gets into a winning streak this year can score beaucoup points for the green jersey. Here’s the points scale:

  • Flat stages (Stages 1,2,3,4,6,10,12,13,19,21) 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 7,14,16): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
  • Mountain Stages + individual TT (Stages 5,8,9,11,15,17,18,20) : 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

Seven time points winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is a safe pick based on past performance. But you’ve come here to read about the future, not browse his palmarès or Wikipedia page and he’s a harder choice for the month ahead. Combine his declining win rate – declining but not diminished as he’s won stages in Catalunya, Romandie and the Giro this year, where he also took the points jersey – and the course this year and it’s a big challenge. As ever he can sprint for the intermediate points when others will sit them out and then place in the bunch sprints. He’ll make the difference by targetting particular days where the intermediate sprint comes after a climb that normally bars other sprinters. Stage wins help but in 2015 he won the points competition without one. He’s also got reduced help from his team who have GC ambitions and mountain stages to aim for.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is the best sprinter in the world, taking two stages in the Giro this year and two in the Tour last autumn and he’s been so consistent since 2019 while rivals like Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria and Sam Bennett have waxed and waned. One goal this year is to win stages in all three grand tours but he’s not coming to take one stage and then coast; his agent even mentioned the green jersey earlier this year. His route to green is via multiple stage wins, to score big again and again, but this won’t be enough. Imagine he wins four stages, an amazing feat and something Greipel and Cavendish have done at the height of their powers: this would only bring 200 points, and ever since the points scale was changed in 2015 the average points haul for the winner in Paris has been 407 points. So an on-fire Ewan would still need to place on days when he doesn’t win and hustle for the intermediate sprints to get green.

Arnaud Démare won the points jersey in the Giro last year but he’ll need that kind of form and more, given the deeper field here. He’s helped by a big train in every sense, his leadout squad could double as rugby players. He can win, and has won, bunch sprints against all the best, the challenge is just doing regularly to build a lead in the points competition. The primary goal has to be a stage win for Groupama-FDJ and once that’s achieved then another stage or the points competition can be reviewed.

Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain) is having his best ever season, racking up wins on varied terrain and his recent win in the Italian championships on a hilly circuit is his career masterpiece. But this is his problem: where are the stages where he can use this ability to get over small climbs that other sprinters cannot? Maybe Nîmes if it’s windy and his team exploit the late climb. In a dragstrip finish he’ll find the pure sprinters hard to beat but can keep plugging away Sagan-style in the points competition and hope to come out of the mountains fresher than the others and there are intermediate sprints in the mountains he can win during a breakaway that other probably sprinters cannot.

The same question faces Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange), only he’s just not winning much these days and the 2017 green jersey winner would sign for a stage first and see what comes next.

Wout van Aert could win the green jersey, just not this year. It’s not the lack of selective stages, more team goals as Jumbo-Visma have their eyes on the yellow jersey. With the ease of hindsight, Jumbo’s efforts to set up a second stage win for van Aert in Lavaur last year cost Roglič the Tour, had they ridden harder to distance Pogačar things would be different. Hindsight, ceteris paribus, don’t rush to the comments: it’s to make a point that as long as Roglič is in the race then van Aert may be let off the leash for sprint wins in the first week and time trials but no more, he’s not going to be constructing a green jersey bid across three weeks. The team is talking of reduced form compared to last year, of his recovery from appendicitis but his win in the recent Belgian championships showed he’s on track.

Alpecin-Fenix bring four sprinters to the race. Mathieu van der Poel is sprinter of sorts but so much more and the surely pick to win green… in 2022. His goal is the mountainbike race at the Olympics so he might sit out some bunch sprints to avoid the crash risk and he’s likely to quit the race rather than drain the tank to reach Paris. It’s more yellow-or-bust this weekend than green.

Van der Poel can dabble in the the bunch sprints but doesn’t have to because Tim Merlier targets the dragstrip finishes and, just as in the Giro, he can win a stage, maybe more. But just like the Giro he’s got to face the Alps, he’s never completed a grand tour and he’s never raced in the high mountains either so making Paris is the first ask. Jasper Philipsen is another sprinter but a card to play on hillier days perhaps… and if you’re wondering Kristian Sbaragli is the fourth sprinter, a Vuelta stage winner but hired help now.

Mark Cavendish is starting, pour boucler la boucle, a stand-alone news story. Just one stage win would do, he’s likely to sit out any intermediate sprints until this is done. He’s capable of a sprint win but obviously unlike the old days when the wins seemed easy and inevitable, now things need to fall his way but he’s helped by the Deceuninck-Quickstep leadout train and the way Michael Mørkøv drops his sprinters into position. But as a late call up, and without the Dauphiné or Suisse in his legs, can he get over the mountains to Paris? Davide Ballerini also starts gives the team more options, especially for harder, hillier finishes.

Feeling nostalgic? André Greipel starts too and can win one for old times’ sake too but the Israel team doesn’t have the same train and he’s not winning as much either. Trek-Segafredo have a trio of chances with Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns but how to win, maybe they’ll need to try a tactical ruse, decoupling their sprint train around a final bend for example to let one rider take a flyer and in the past they’ve alternated the designated rider each day which makes it harder to points regularly.

Cees Bol (DSM) is after a stage win, he took one in Paris-Nice and can take one or more if the stars align but a green jersey bid is hard. Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty) can try and place each day but a win would be an surprise. Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) is back in the Tour but his win rate of old isn’t although he is climbing well and probably the more regular pick than Dan McClay. Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels) is always an outsider for a sprint stage who just needs luck to strike but often scores well across three weeks. Christophe Laporte will be a hero if he can land a sprint win for Cofidis in their hunt for a Tour stage since 2008.

Points competition contenders

Caleb Ewan, Peter Sagan
Arnaud Démare, Sonny Colbrelli, Tim Merlier
Matthews, Coquard
  • Why green? Because of Belle Jardinière, a clothing retailer and uniform supplier with a famous Parisian department store. It sponsored the jersey in 1953 when the points competition was reintroduced to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tour de France and it used green in its branding. It’s been green ever since but was once red in, appropriately, 1968.

61 thoughts on “Tour de France Sprinters and Green Jersey Contenders”

  1. I wonder if GvA is worth to mention? Nowadays, he seems to never win, but is always there in the top, so his consistency can bring points. Long shot, but why not?

  2. As ever, thanks fir the great articles. Spin off question: Any idea what the “Championnat de France sur Home -Trainer” was? (From the final image.) An early version of zwift?

  3. I think Ewan could take it – if he goes for it (as he usually doesn’t) – because there are so many all-out sprint stages, and I think he’ll win quite a few of them. Also, Sagan is going to have so much competition in the more difficult stages from the likes of MvdP, JA and WVA if JV let him go for them.
    Mind you, Stages 1 and 2 being classed as ‘flat’ is very much not in the sprinters’ favour. How are they flat when they both end on hills?

  4. With the trend (?) of so many stages being won by the breakaway, I wonder if anyone will reach the heady heights of 400+ points. I can see 300 being nearer the mark which perhaps makes Ewan slight favourite.

  5. Whatever happens the Cav story will run through the tour, will he win a stage? will he win 4? – very unlikely, will he make Paris? etc. Despite his lack of preparation I think he has a reasonable chance of getting to the end, with the exception of Stage 8 the mountain stages have either a flatish first section or lots of downhill so staying in the le autobus and getting inside the time limit should be possible.

    Real shame about Sam Bennett, he would have had a real shot at winning a second consecutive jersey as there is no clear favourite. I would guess WvA will be hampered by missing a few weeks because of his medical problem and the team will be focused on yellow. Perhaps Caleb Ewan who seems to have developed some climbing ability although chasing intermediate sprint points and making sure he places is likely to detract from winning stages. Not sure about Peter Sagan although his unresolved contract situation might be an added incentive. Maybe either Sonny Colbrelli or Michael Matthews might decide to focus on the jersey rather than chasing stage wins.

    • Cavendish (and Froome even) may be big stories in the UK, but I imagine in other countries they’re significantly less interested. Cavendish at least has a chance of doing something in the race, whereas Froome is borderline irrelevant, the almost daily updates about sod all being nothing but PR for Israel.

      • Cav is a story wherever. He has been associated so much with the Tour, his 30 stage wins, his somewhat outsized personality and the Patrick Lefevere / DQS angle combine to make him a story. He was the brightest star at Highroad & Quickstep neither of which were British teams.

        Its not the Sky / Wiggo / Froomy / G etc saga which I suspect is much more of UK interest. You can argue that Cav’s wins in 2008 heralded the British “domination” of the Tour. Though if you had suggested then that a couple of track riders and an unknown from East Africa riding for a yet to be created team would go onto dominate the race for a decade, so much that the race routes and rules would be changed to make it harder for them, you would have been thought to be a crazy brit over indulging on pastis!

      • Not sure why you even mention Froome tbh. It is sort of sad watching him ride these days.

        And I think there is a lot of interest in Cav riding the Tour generally, although it is a shame it is at the expense of Bennett. Very weird story that, as someone who suffers from Anxiety Lefevre’s comments about Sam I felt were cruel.

        • Totally agree with you about Lefevere. Unnecessary as well as cruel.
          (I only mentioned Froome because the aforementioned cyclingnews, for instance, literally has daily articles about him – and nearly as many on Cavendish. Very different situations those two are in – articles on Cavendish don’t seem pointless – but I can only assume the interest is so fevered/over the top because they have a large British readership.)

      • I think the focus on Cav is warranted. His story was just about as sad as Froome’s now, but he’s actually made it back the top level! Isn’t there a sprint finish in the town where he won his first stage?

  6. Do we really think Ewan will make it to Paris? I’m pretty sure he will repeat his Giro- win a couple of stages, withdraw with a sore little toe before the mountains and talk about how much he respects the Tour and then bugg3r off to prepare to repeat in the Vuelta.

    I’d say Sagan/Matthews/Demare to reach Paris and Colbrelli to be a contender if he can.

      • I would agree with you, especially if a green jersey was at stake. But his publicly stated goal was to win a stage in each GT this year – think that has only been done 3 times before. If he empties the tank in the Tour, which I think he would do to get through the mountains, that would risk not having enough left for the Vuelta.

        It would be very hard to pull out of the Tour if he was in contention for green.

  7. A slight correction – Sagan won the green jersey without winning a stage in both 2014 and 2015. Your discussion about multiple stage wins not being enough to get the green is right on. For example, in 2016 Cavendish had four stage wins but dropped out after stage 16 trailing in the green jersey standings 405-291! (Sagan had three stages that year, and finished with 470 points, 242 points ahead of Kittel) Ewan had three stage wins in 2019 and was still 68 points behind in the points competition.

    Before he pulled the plug on the Tour this year, Sam Bennett spoke about how exhausting it was to go for the jersey in 2020. Reading between the lines, it sounded like he wasn’t at all excited about trying to defend the jersey. I have no idea if that played a part in the strange melt down that happened between he and Lefevere, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I think Ewan understands this, and knows very well what he needs to do to win bunch sprints, which I think is his biggest goal. I think he’d rather have a shot at three or four stage wins, rather than one or two and the green jersey. I’ll be surprised if we see him chasing intermediate sprint points very often, if at all. His agent may be talking about it, but I just can’t see Ewan making the commitment needed for green.

    Matthews’ form has been off for a while, I don’t see him rising to this challenge. I guess having won it one year because Sagan was DQ’d and Kittel dropped out gives him some claim to contender status, but 2017 was his best year even, and even then the stars had to align for him to take the jersey.

    I’ll be impressed if Merlier finishes the Tour. It’ll be interesting to see how Démare and Cobrelli fare, but I don’t see it for either of them. Ultimately, even though the parcours don’t do him any favors, I think Sagan will grind away at scoring points day after day. His form has been good this year, and I think this is an unusually long time for him to be training before the Tour. I think he’s extremely motivated, and I’m looking forward to some fireworks from him, as opposed to the often defensive riding that happened in the Giro.

    I think the finish-line photo above is an indicator. Yes, Sagan was relegated for banging into WvA that day, but look how close he got to winning against the two best pure sprinters at a time when he hadn’t been showing the form he’s shown this year. His legs are clearly better this year, and I don’t think any other contenders will have the motivation that Sam Bennett had last year to take it from him.

  8. Cav has won 30 Tour stages and the green jersey once. Sagan has won 12 stages but the green jersey seven times. Certainly for the five years from 2009 – 2013 inclusive, when Cav won 21 stages, he was the outstanding dominant sprinter in the world, yet won the green jersey just once (despite finishing every year in that period). Which for all Sagan’s undoubted talents, you feel is something of an injustice in rewarding consistency over victory.

    I think the competition could be more interesting if you did away with the intermediate sprints altogether; but awarded the same finishing points on all stages regardless of terrain – you would then have a competition balanced between a sprinter who might win four or five stages but have very few other placings, and who would be under pressure to make it to Paris; and an overall contender who might only win one or two stages but would likely have eight or nine stages when they might expect to finish high in the daily standings.

    • It’s always been the competition for the most consistent finisher (look at a list of previous winners). In recent years, they’ve tweaked it to favour the sprinters more (it’s just that there’s nothing they can do about Sagan). The Giro and the Vuelta work pretty much how you describe (but with intermediate sprints in the Giro – and I think in the Vuelta, but I’m not sure), but the problem with this is that the overall contender quite often wins and if not then someone high on GC wins. Either way, these riders don’t really care about winning it.
      At some point, Sagan will retire/age enough, and the competition will open up again – it may have already happened.

      • I agree ’twas ever thus (Kelly won four jerseys but only five stages). But it still somehow feels iniquitous that the rider who was undoubtedly the greatest sprinter of his era (and arguably ever) had such a poor conversion of stage wins to jersey wins: it feels like the scoring system got it wrong.

        • Thanks for mentioning Kelly. I think he still holds the record for most days in green, though from a comment he made recently I think Sagan is on the cusp of eclipsing that record. I had mean to look up how many stages he’d won – I’m surprised that it is only five. He’s undoubtedly one of the GOATs of cycling, and it just shows that stage wins is but one measure of how dominating a rider can be (as it true of GT contenders, which also applies to Kelly).

          • I think the statistic about Kelly is the most days in a grand tour points leader’s jersey, not specifically the Tour de France. As well as his four TdF green jerseys, he won four points competitions at the Vuelta as well. Sagan is on the brink of taking that record number of days if he has a few days in green at this Tour de France.

          • Thanks for the correction. Also noteworthy that Sagan and Kelly are tied at 8 GT points jerseys each, one behind Erik Zabel. That’s another milestone Sagan is going for.

        • “… it feels like the scoring system got it wrong.” Really? Because whoever you thought should have won didn’t? If they changed the scoring system mid-race it would be one thing but I assume everyone who pins on a number knows how things work. Is it not the same with the polka-dot jersey? That scoring system awards points over some pretty small climbs but someone who cares about that jersey knows it and races accordingly. Is he really the best climber? Maybe not…but he’s the guy who wanted to win the jersey based on the scoring system in-place, whether you agree with it or not.
          OTOH, perhaps it’s time to ditch the “best young rider” jersey? Change it to best placed rider over 35 years of age…that way nobody will be concerned about it also being held by the guy in yellow!

        • I disagree, I think the scoring works, it gives a winner who has to battle day-in-day-out for placings rather than rewards a handful of sprints. Cavendish was very careful about managing his efforts and saved his legs for 5-8 finishing sprints per race. He would rarely (if ever) try for intermediate sprints and would never battle in breakaway type stages to gather points – effectively, he rarely featured in the race at all, only in the final moments of obvious sprint stages. Whereas Peter Sagan and Thor Hushovd immediately before him are known for going to extreme lengths across many stages over the 3-week race to get points. The points helping these efforts creates a pretty worthy winner – someone who battles throughout the race.

          • I completely agree (as is obvious from my other comments). Why give a pure sprinter with a powerful sprint train a double reward (stage wins AND a coveted jersey) for being given a limo ride to 150-200 meters from the finish line (while they ride the autobus the whole way in the non-sprint stages)?

      • I agree that it seems to have been about the most consistent finisher, and not the dominant sprinter, by design. This seems to be as it should be. Cavendish won 30 stages – is that not glory enough? How do we know who was the dominant sprinter at a TdF? Simple, just check who won multiple stages. There were a couple of years where Kittel and Griepel were utterly dominant as a sprinters, but zilch green jerseys. Head over to PCS and check out Sagan’s TdF road stage finishes in 2014 and 2015 – 19 top 5 finishes, and 3 other top 10s. Nine of those were second places. That’s an utterly dominating display of bike racing, finishing top 5 in half of all road stages.

        Who was a more impressive last year – Bennett, with two wins, or Ewan, with two wins? I think the way the competition is set up it’s far more interesting than it usually works out to be in, say, the Vuelta (where I suspect it’s skewed towards Valverde, but maybe it’s always been that way). The Tour green jersey seems to me a great measure of the best all-around rider, which is much harder to measure than best sprinter (where one only has to tally sprint victories).

        • Think you’ve persuaded me! The system isn’t broken just because one rider dominates. There’s a pretty remarkable analysis from Cycling Statistics on Twitter that shows that Sagan has top 10s in 49% of the 168 Tour stages he’s started and podiums in almost a third of those 168 stages. That consistency and quality is incredible.

      • Agree with J Evans here – the points system and intermediate sprints were changed specifically because it was a nonsense Cavendish wasn’t winning the jersey, and as soon as they did that Sagan rocked up and turned it into the Peter Sagan jersey for the rider who was most like Peter Sagan (prop. Peter Sagan). That Bennett managed to win it last year after an epic struggle against, yes, Peter Sagan only goes to show what it could have been without Sagan being so good at what he does. The circle will turn and there’s no need to change it just yet.

        All that said, in general it seems like there are fewer and fewer sprint stages because the audience tends not to enjoy them – everyone else apparently wants to see a dozen riders slogging their way uphill to gain a mighty five seconds over each other before hitting social media to reassure each other that tomorrow’s mountain stage will be EPIC (eg see another five second time gain). That’s always going to mitigate against pure sprinters being selected for the Tour, let alone fighting for a jersey.

        • There are eight sprint stages this year. Is that really fewer and fewer, 8 out of 19 road stages? And does it really mitigate against pure sprinters going to the Tour? It seems like for as long as I’ve been following the Tour (really only about the last six years), barring injury the top pure sprinters seem to be routinely selected.

    • Cav’s focus was always razor sharp on stage wins, getting Green a secondary bonus. Hushovd was the more consistent finisher in the first part of Cav’s pomp, then he had to deal with the emergence of Sagan.

  9. Apparently if Ewan wins a stage early, it’ll be more likely he’ll then try for green. Otherwise, green is goal N# 2 until he gets a stage win.

    • Given his goal to win a stage in all three GTs I would be surprised if he makes it to Paris. He dropped out of the Giro in the points jersey and while the Tour jersey is more prestigious producing the performance needed to win it and finishing the Tour may harm his chances of being in form for the Vuelta.

      • The first section of the Vuelta is an 8K TT, 5 Flat Days,Mountain Stage, Flat, Mountain, Rest.
        He’ll make it as far as the first rest day, he’s not going to skip a chance at the Sprinters World Champs!

      • The way that the Covid Delta variant is increasing, with Europe described as being “on thin ice,”we may not see the Vuelta taking place?
        I don’t know how Spain are doing with their vaccine programme admittedly.

        • I suggest Spain just passed 50% for first doses, and is progressing at about the same rate as the rest of Europe.

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