Tour de France 2019: Green jersey guide – Peter Sagan's seventh heaven?
The third of our Blazin' Saddles Tour de France guides is powered by speed as we cock a snook at the fastest men in the peloton and the battle for green. With Peter Sagan getting back to winning ways last year, can anyone stop the Slovakian showman from a record-breaking seventh green jersey in Paris?
Established in 1953, the points classification was reintroduced to the race to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tour. Between 1905 and 1912, a points system of sorts had been used instead of timing to work out who was leading the race, but its return came as an additional classification to reward the race's best sprinters.
The jersey was green because the original sponsor was a lawn mower producer; only once – in 1968 – has the jersey changed colours (in that year, it was an orangey red – to satisfy a new sponsor).
Last year, Peter Sagan became the first rider in history to reach a century of days in green during stage 18, which means the Slovakian enters this year's race with a grand total of 103 days leading the competition. Considering the 29-year-old has ridden 130 stages of the Tour in his career, this phenomenal return has seen Sagan in green for 79% of his time on the race.
Sagan was on course to draw level with Erik Zabel's record of six consecutive green jerseys in 2017 before he was disqualified after stage 4 following that infamous alleged barge of Mark Cavendish at Vittel. The triple world champion drew level with the German's total last year and will move to the top of the pile with a seventh win in Paris this July.
Although there are no pancake-flat stages in this year's Tour – and hardly any finishes that don't include the odd leg-stretching climb in the finale – there are still nine stages which could culminate with a bunch sprint of sorts. They are: Stage 1 to Brussels, stage 3 to Epernay, stage 4 to Nancy, stage 5 to Colmar, stage 7 to Chalon-sur-Soane, stage 10 to Albi, stage 11 to Toulouse, stage 16 to Nimes and stage 21 to Paris.
Once again, the maillot vert is sponsored by the car manufacturer Skoda. In all likelihood, the first wearer of the green jersey will not be the rider leading the points classification – for the winner of the opening stage in Brussels is guaranteed the yellow jersey the next day.
Tour de France 2018: Peter Sagan e Geraint Thomas (Imago)
Image credit: Imago
Green jersey: points system
Points are awarded at the end of each stage and during a single intermediate sprint in each stage apart from the two time trials. The amount of points on offer depends on a complicated points coefficient system, outlined below.
Flat 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 finale or medium mountains (3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
Simply being the best sprinter won't guarantee you the green jersey: just ask Mario Cipollini. The flamboyant Italian won 12 Tour stages in his time, but never the maillot vert for he never made it to Paris in eight appearances (in fact, he only finished six of his 26 Grand Tours in total).
WATCH: Sagan powers to victory
Green jersey favourites
There are six clear favourites for the green jersey – although four of them may still struggle in the wake of the consistency of the man who had made this competition his own since 2012.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe): A victory in the Tour de Suisse – only his third of the season – showcased the Slovakian at his very best and came amid a cluster of top three finishes. It's this consistency that makes Sagan such a shoo-in for green. That said, if there's ever a year to beat him, it's this one where, deprived of his rainbow stripes, he does seem more vulnerable.
Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma): The Dutchman won two stages last year and is already in double figures for the season. He's probably the fastest flat-track bully in the pack but his power and stay-ability means he's that much more versatile than some of his rivals. A serious threat.
Groenewegen too strong on Stage 7
Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep): Reunited with pilot Michael Morkov and lead-out duo Yves Lampaert and Max Richeze, the Italian should return to his best in France after a torrid Giro. He took his season tally to six with a brace of wins in Switzerland – but which Viviani will we see come Brussels?
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal): Making his long-awaited Tour debut, the Australian pocket-rocket has the potential to take off from the outset in the same way that the absent Fernando Gaviria did last year: with yellow. Six wins this season puts Ewan up there among the best and it will be a huge surprise if he doesn't complete his Grand Tour grand slam this July. Green, however, may be too much to ask.
Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb): The Australian complained last week that teammate Tom Dumoulin's withdrawal ahead of the race has both confused and disappointed him. Apparently, his training has been geared towards guiding the Dutchman to yellow and not competing in the sprints and for the green jersey he won in 2017 after Sagan's DQ. But he looked OK in Suisse, so worth watching.
Image credit: Getty Images
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep): Could the Frenchman be the red-herring in the battle for polka dots? While most people assume he'll defend his climber's jersey, Alaphilippe's ability to mix it up both in the sprints and in the hills could see him pose some serious questions to Sagan. A lot depends on the form of teammate Viviani, but don't rule LouLou out.
Other riders to consider
After winning the green jersey in the Dauphiné, Wout Van Aert has the attributes for a tilt in his maiden Tour, although he'll be largely riding as a domestique in support of Groenewegen in the sprints and Jumbo-Visma's GC men, Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett, in the mountains.
Like Ewan, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni needed a Tour stage win to complete his grand slam, but the fiery 28-year-old, who has never finished in a Tour top three, missed the cut at Cofidis. Instead, sprint duties will go to Christophe Laporte, who has about as much chance of winning green as he does winning a stage.
Another non-selection that has made the headlines is that of former green jersey Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data). Despite 30 Tour stage wins to his name, the 35-year-old discovered the hard way this week that his struggling team will not simply give a place to a rider because of his huge salary and past glories. The controversial decision came as a shock to Cavendish who, despite patchy form, felt he was hitting his stride in time for his favourite race of the year.
In Cavendish's absence, Dimension Data are giving Italian sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo a Tour debut. The 30-year-old has never won a Grand Tour stage but won the points classification in the 2016 Giro. The team will also look to the experience of Edvald Boasson Hagen for wins. The Norwegian last won a stage on the Tour in 2017 but won on French soil in the Dauphiné in June.
It will be interesting to see how veteran Andre Greipel (Arkea-Samsic) fares. With just the one La Tropicale Amissa Bongo stage win to his name this season, the German will have to reply on his savoir faire and experience over his speed if he wants to take his 12th Tour stage win. But green? No chance.
Having triumphed on the Champs Elysees last year, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) returns with high hopes following teammate Fernando Gaviria's fitness concerns ruling the Colombian out. Kristoff and his Belgian teammate Jasper Philipsen could prove a thrilling tandem in the sprints – although green is surely beyond either.
Kristoff triumphs in Champs-Elysees sprint as Thomas claims maiden title
The same said can be said for Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) and Magnus Cort (Astana): they may feature in a few of the sprints, one of them may even sneak a win, but none will be a contender in the ultimate battle for green.
Prediction: that man Sagan
In our final Tour preview, we take a look at the favourites doing battle for the yellow jersey on the 100th anniversary of the race's iconic leader's jersey.