While a lot of the cycling world bemoans the easier route for this year’s Tour, there is one group of riders who will be happy with the flatter parcours: the sprinters.
The organisers have been kind to the fast men, with there looking to be 7 sprint stages but that could be increased to 9 or even 10 depending on how the peloton attacks the race.
Having won the jersey for the last 5 years in a row, Sagan is the rider to beat.
Can he make it 6 this season?
First though, let’s have a look at how the points system works.
The stages are categorised based on their difficulty, with the easier stages awarding more points to the winner at the end of the day.
As for which stages fall into each category;
- Stages 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 19, 21 are Cat 1, i.e. score maximum points
- Stages 3, 5 , 8, 14, 15, 16 are Cat 2
- Stages 1, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20 are Cat 3
With 8 stages that reward 50 points at the line, it is possible for a dominant sprinter to build up a strong points tally. The sprinters will have to come out firing if they want to contest green because half of the “big” sprint stages come in the opening week of racing.
Sagan normally makes his mark by winning the Cat-2 stages and being close on the Cat-1 days. However, this year 3 and 14 look like the only days where we could have a reduced bunch sprint. Stage 5 will be a GC day and so could stage 8, with stage 15 looking like a breakaway day. Furthermore, Stage 16 actually looks like a stage where most of the sprinters could make it to the line as most of the climbing comes in the first half of the day.
Another way that Sagan cements his position in Green is by going on the hunt for the intermediate sprint points during the more rolling stages as his competitors normally can’t follow in the breakaway these days.
Yet, this year the organisers have seemed to “nerf” that aspect of his attack, with having most of the intermediate sprints on flatter parts of the route and before the big obstacles on the day. It’s really only on stages 9/15/17 that they’re in places inaccessible to most sprinters!
Even Stage 9 might be a little hard for Sagan to chase the points…
Therefore, there is certainly a lot more emphasis on placing highly at the end of stages this year and picking up some minor points at the intermediates to keep the tally ticking over.
With all that being said though, Sagan is still the clear favourite for the jersey. He looked lightning fast at the recent Tour de Suisse and he always ups his game in the sprints at the Tour. Even if he doesn’t win any of the flat stages, he’ll no doubt podium in at least 3 of them while picking up top 5s in a lot of the others. That will give him a good base of points to go and pick up some more during Stage 3 etc and some mountain breakaways.
So a rough points total for him could be;
2 Cat-2 wins (60pts), 2 Cat-1 2nds (50pts), 2 Cat-1 3rds (40pts), Top 10s in Cat-1s (~50 – 70pts), Intermediate Sprints (~70 – 100 pts) = 270 -> 320pts as an estimate.
A tough score to beat, but not impossible.
Kittel looks like Sagan’s biggest challenger, on paper anyway. Arguably the fastest sprinter in the world, a lot of these flatter stages will suit the fantastically haired German. His Tour didn’t go to plan last year, only winning one stage in the end. Not great for a man of his abilities. He’ll be hoping to go a lot better this year and that Cavendish arrives undercooked. If so, he could feasibly win 4 of the 8 Cat-1 stages, and get close on some others.
Picking up a few podiums and top 5s on the other stages as well as some intermediate sprint points, he will be there or thereabouts with Sagan’s total. It looks promising for him to launch a proper tilt at the Green Jersey this year.
And what about Cavendish? He took me and almost everyone else by surprise last year with his dominant performance in the sprints after seemingly coming into the Tour not on great form and possibly past his prime. This year, he faces an even tougher battle after recovering from the Epstein Barr Virus and only returning to racing a couple of weeks ago at the Tour of Slovenia. He only managed a second place there and was OTL at the British Championships (not a great sign but only 12 riders came home in time) so it’s not looking too good for his chances this year. Yet…
Now, you can call me crazy, but I have a feeling he will turn up and will be going well. Dimension Data won’t have wasted a spot for him on their team if he was going to use the first week as training, hoping to pick up a win later on in the race. Furthermore, a telling sign is that they’ve brought a strong lead-out train with them. That train could well be for Boasson Hagen, but it seems a bit over the top if it’s just for him.
On form, Cavendish is as fast as Kittel so he could well repeat last season’s performance and win 4 stages, putting him right in contention for the Green jersey. I’m certainly not ruling him out, that’s for sure.
Greipel will pick up his regular Grand Tour stage but at the Giro he went missing a lot in the sprints so he’ll need to be a lot more consistent to challenge for the jersey and I can’t see that happening.
Arnaud Démare is France’s best hope for a long time to win the Green jersey. He has been exceptional this year and his win at the recent French Nationals was truly dominant. As close to being a tier-1 sprinter without being one, he may well move up the rankings after this Tour. I expect good things from him this race and he is the most likely of all French riders to win a stage. With a team almost 100% focussed around him, the pressure will be on. Will he thrive under that pressure or crumble?
I can’t really see anyone else being consistent enough to challenge for the jersey.
Groenewegen is a great talent but he has the propensity to be 1st or nowhere at times. A stage win for him would be a great result and that’s certainly a possibility, but to challenge for the jersey will be too tough an ask.
Matthews (as much as I like and rate him), is a poor man’s Sagan for this competition. Not as fast as others on the flat, not a good enough climber to win mountainous breakaway days.
The same can be said for Colbrelli.
Kristoff has been poor this season and his team seems to be against him.
Bouhanni still seems to be suffering from his crash in Yorkshire, possibly a lack of confidence which is surprising for him.
Don’t get me wrong, Sagan should win the jersey again. He is fast enough to compete on the flat stages and strong enough to be there at the end when no other sprinters are. However, I just have a feeling that Cavendish will be as electric as he was last year and dominate the flat sprints.
I expect this to all fall flat on its face when he doesn’t contest the sprint on Stage 2…
Now, it’s obviously a gamble but hey, that’s what betting is about!
If Cavendish is on fire, his current price is massive. If he is still under the weather, it is grossly under-priced. It would kill me to see him romp away with some stages this year knowing exactly what he did last year. Therefore, I’m willing to take the “gamble” on his form and back him EW for the Green Jersey and almost accept it could be a losing bet.
1pt EW Cavendish for Green Jersey @ 18/1 with Bet365 (and others)
Make sure you get 1/4 odds for 3 places, as some bookies are going 1/3 odds for 2.
Also, as I won’t be putting out any more Tour blogs until the stage 1 preview on Friday, I’ve backed Lotto Jumbo (0.5pt on) for the Team Classification @ 80/1 with Betfair. Would take 66s availalbe elsewhere.
Bit of an outside bet but they have an AG2R of 2013 feel about them where they should have 2 guys near the front of most stages and will be looking for breakaway success too.
Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Green Jersey? Is Sagan a shoe-in? And have I really lost the plot before the Tour has even started?
I’ll have my “Big fuck off” Giro Rosa guide out tomorrow which I would greatly appreciate if you shared and have a read of! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.