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|
- 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.