Tour de France 2021 green jersey guide - Can Mathieu van der Poel deny Peter Sagan? Can Mark Cavendish shine?
Debutant Mathieu van der Poel has what it takes to deny Peter Sagan an eighth green jersey – although he's unlikely to make to Paris because of the Olympics. So, could pocket-rocket Caleb Ewan speed off with the spoils? And could the late, romantic, addition of Mark Cavendish see the Manxman roll back the years? Felix Lowe on the green jersey battle for the 2021 Tour de France.
Mathieu van der Poel of The Netherlands and Team Alpecin-Fenix Green Points Jersey Celebration, during the 3rd UAE Tour 2021, Stage 1
With Ireland’s Sam Bennett ruled out of the Tour de France with a knee injury, the race for the green jersey has been blown wide open. There is no shortage of sprinting talent on the start list – look especially at Australia’s Caleb Ewan and Frenchman Arnaud Demare – while the romantics will be hoping for a rekindling of the rivalry between Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel.
But the green jersey is often won by an all-round talent with the ability to finish high in bunch sprints while carving out results on the punchier finishes too – hence Peter Sagan’s record seven victories. Wout van Aert would be a shoo-in for green were he not spending most of his days on yellow jersey duty for teammate Primoz Roglic – which would open the door to his Dutch rival Mathieu van der Poel, who makes his belated Tour debut, were it not for the Olympics.
Before we look at all the contenders for the green jersey and sprints, let’s just remind ourselves of how it works. Points in the green jersey competition are awarded to the first 15 riders at the finish line and at one intermediate sprint point during the stage – and the rider with the most points, wears the jersey.
Team Deceuninck rider Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates on the podium after winning the best sprinter's green jersey of the 107th edition of the Tour de France
If the leader of the points classification is also leading the race, he will wear yellow and the second-placed rider in the general classification will be in green. In other words, whoever finishes runner-up after the opening stage from Brest to Landerneau will line up in green the next day for the stage to Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Now let’s take a closer look at the sprinters who will be gunning for green before coming up with some rider ratings…
Before Sam Bennett won last year, it had been a nine years since a pure sprinter – that man Mark Cavendish – wore the green jersey in Paris. This, of course, was more down to Peter Sagan’s uncanny ability to hoover up points over all terrains than any ostensible shift away from sprinting being the key to winning the jersey (this isn’t the Vuelta, after all).
With five stage wins in his two appearances, Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has proved his class on the Tour – and it’s worth noting that the French race is the only Grand Tour he has ever completed, the 26-year-old having DNF’ed his only Vuelta and four previous Giro appearances.
So, evidence suggests that not only can Ewan win stages on the Tour – he can make it to the end. This ticks two significant boxes – but does he have the consistency and ability to pick up points when he’s not winning sprints? That remains to be seen. The hilly nature of the roads in Brittany may mean Ewan starts on the back foot – plus are there any question marks over his condition off the back of his appearance in the Giro?
But two wins in the opening week and two at the back end of the race (where, unusually, there are rich pickings for the sprinters this year) is not beyond Ewan. Provided he gets through the mountains in between, he should be in the frame for the green jersey.
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) im Trikot des französischen Meisters
Image credit: Getty Images
The same goes for Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) who makes a return to the Tour for the first time in three years. It’s perhaps come 10 months too late: Demare was in scintillating form in 2020 and picked up four stages on the rescheduled Giro after being overlooked by manager Mark Madiot for the Tour. With Thibaut Pinot disappointing and Bennett winning the green jersey – it was surely a decision Madiot rued.
Pinot is not here this year, with youngster David Gaudu given the nod as leader and Demare recalled with a couple of lead-out men in Jacopo Guarnieri and Ignatas Konovalovas. The ingredients are all there for the former French champion to add to his seven wins this season – but becoming the first French green jersey winner since Laurent Jalabert in 1995 will be a big step-up.
The perennial champion: Sagan
After a string of successes – missing out only in 2017 when booted off the race – Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) conceded the green jersey to former teammate Bennett last September, finishing a whopping 96 points behind the Irishman in the final table. Thinking Bennett's absence makes Sagan, technically now the defending champion, the winner elect, might be wishful thinking.
Sure, he won the Giro’s maglia ciclamino last month – but that was from a very weak sprinting field. What’s more, the 31-year-old is no longer the prolific winner that he was during his pomp: he has only won a single stage in each of his previous three Grand Tours, and the last time he took multiple wins was in 2018.
Slovakia's Peter Sagan, wearing the best sprinter's green jersey celebrates, past Belgium's Wout van Aert, wearing the best young's white jersey, as he wins on the finish line of the fifth stage of the 106th edition of the Tour de France
Image credit: Getty Images
Age is one factor, but so, too, is the rise of the likes of Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe – punchy riders who can both sprint and climb, whereby taking the points which would previously have been destined for Sagan’s back pocket. An eighth green jersey – even without Bennett and in a team without an out-and-out GC rider – looks unlikely for the Slovakian superstar. But try telling him that.
The all-rounders: Matthews, Van Aert, Van der Poel
Australia’s Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) may have won the green jersey the year Sagan was disqualified for riding Cav into the barriers in Vittel, but the 30-year-old has yet to stand atop the podium since his switch from Sunweb, so expectations will not be high going into the Tour.
Two victories last year despite burying himself for his team leader emphasised the class and character of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). There’s no denying that, without Roglic’s yellow aspirations, the Belgian would be the bookmakers’ favourite for green. But his team duties mean he won’t be able to go up the road for the intermediate sprints, nor will he be able to contest all the fast finishes – although don’t be surprised to see him having a pop at Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Dutch debutant Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) won’t be shackled in the same way – and he will relish the rolling roads of Brittany during the first weekend, perhaps making yellow (as opposed to green) his early target. But his Alpecin-Fenix team also has another sprint option in Tim Merlier, so something – or someone – will have to give. Besides, the 26-year-old has already spoken of his intention to leave the race early to focus on the Tokyo Olympics - which could explain why Alpecin-Fenix have brought both Merlier and his compatriot Jasper Philipsen...
Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert
Image credit: Eurosport
The debutant: Tim Merlier
Winner of the first road stage of the Giro, Belgium’s Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) got his Grand Tour career off to a flying start last month – although his best result after that was third place in Stage 7 before retiring at the start of the second week with fatigue.
With six wins this season, the 28-year-old has certainly made a name for himself – to the extent that Van der Poel has, on occasion, taken a step back and slipped into domestique duties for the sprinter. It will be interesting to see how the pair dovetail at the Tour, where Van der Poel’s personal ambitions will surely make out-and-out support for Merlier a contentious issue. But the Dutchman's early departure could open the door to Merlier in the second and third week.
The green jersey is surely beyond the Belgian in his debut Tour, but a win on one of the flatter stages – perhaps Stage 6 to Châteauroux – before a strong showing in the final few days is not out of the question.
'At a canter!' – Merlier wins on Giro debut
The French contingent: Bouhanni, Coquard, Laporte
While Demare stands heads and shoulders above all other French sprinters, there’s a trio of fellow fast finishers who will be hoping to capitalise and finally pick up a stage win on their home Tour.
For all his bluster, Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) has yet to finish higher than fourth place in a stage on the Tour, the combative 30-year-old missing out on selection since 2017. With three second-places this year – the latest at the nineteenth edition of the little-known La Roue Tourangelle Centre Val de Loire - Trophée Harmonie Mutuelle – Bouhanni is still searching for his first scalp in 2021 and, not for the first time, has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons this year.
Bouhanni famously left Cofidis after years of in-fighting with teammate Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) – and while the 28-year-old Laporte has not exactly pulled up trees with Bouhanni out of the picture, he’s won two times more than his old foe this year and will look to disrupt some of the well-oiled sprint trains in France.
Joining Bouhanni without a win this year – after just the single victory in 2020 – Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) was nevertheless runner-up on the Champs-Elysées in 2015 and again (by a hair’s breadth) in Limoges a year later. His best placing last year was third and it looks like the window has passed for the 29-year-old former track specialist.
Mark Cavendish Andre Greipel Team HTC-Columbia
Image credit: Reuters
The old-timers: Cavendish, Greipel, Boasson Hagen
It looked like the door had closed on Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) after a fruitless season at Bahrain-McLaren, but the Manxman was given a lifeline by Patrick Lefevere this winter – and hasn’t he done well since? Four victories on the Tour of Turkey saw Cav roll back the years – and another win in the Baloise Belgium Tour set tongues wagging about a potential Tour recall following news of teammate Bennett’s injury.
The bombshell came early this week when the Irishman was omitted from QuickStep’s eight at the expense of the 36-year-old whose 30th and last victory on the world’s biggest bike race came five years ago.
Still four stages short of Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour stage record, Cavendish could surf the crest of the wave and take a win – perhaps in Châteauroux in Stage 6, where his first ever Tour triumph came in 2008 – but a repeat of his green jersey antics of 2011 is beyond any rational plausibility. Not least because he’d be required to reach Paris – and Cav has no Grand Tour preparation in his legs.
'He's back!' - Watch Cavendish seal back-to-back wins in Turkey
Still, the prospect of the former world champion renewing his old rivalry with fellow veteran and onetime HTC-Columbia teammate Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) has got a certain generation of fans rubbing their knees in glee. Like Cav, the Gorilla hasn’t won a stage on the Tour in five years. But a couple of recent wins have got his fans excited about a comeback – although it’s worth remembering that the German hasn’t finished higher than sixth in the past two Tours.
Four years Greipel’s junior and two years younger than Cav, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team TotalEnergies) completes this trio of ageing sprinters. While the Norwegian is a more recent winner on the Tour – he won Stage 19 in 2017 after twice finishing runner-up – Boasson Hagen’s stock has fallen dramatically, and he’s yet to win for his new team after leaving NTT Pro Cycling. That said, he came close last year – denied only by Van Aert in Stage 7 – so who knows what the 34-year-old has up his sleeve.
The Italians: Colbrelli and Ballerini
The new Italian national champion, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorous) must be the best sprinter never to have won a stage on a Grand Tour. That could all change in his 10th outing, with the 31-year-old hitting solid form. Three wins this season – and the points classification at both the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné – only tells half the story for a rider who clearly has heaps of potential. If the stars align, the drought could be over in France.
Meanwhile, Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep) won’t mind one jot that the spotlight falls on teammate Cavendish ahead of his first appearance on the Tour. The 26-year-old enjoyed a stellar start to the season with wins in the Tour de la Provence and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and could emerge as the Wolfpack’s top dog should Cav struggle to find his legs. No chance for green, mind.
Sonny Colbrelli sul podio di Imola dopo aver conquistato il titolo italiano nella prova in linea dei campionati nazionali italiani 2021 - Imago pub not in FRAxNED
Image credit: Imago
The outsiders: Pedersen, Bol, Philipsen, Van Poppel, McLay, Garcia
Denmark’s Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) rode his debut Tour last year in the rainbow stripes but to little fanfare – despite almost winning the opening stage in Nice in the rain, denied only by Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (not selected by UAE-Team Emirates this year). Pedersen loves adverse conditions and the opening days in Brittany are expected to be fairly wet and windy, which could put him in good stead for an early green jersey push. But the 25-year-old’s form this year is fairly rotten, and he surely doesn’t have the sprint speed to be a genuine factor.
Rangy Dutchman Cees Bol (Team DSM) twice came close in last year’s Tour and will hope to add to his Paris-Nice stage win from earlier in the year. Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) will be something of a Plan C on the team given the presence of both Van der Poel and Merlier, but he won a stage of the Vuelta last year and triumphed twice when Cav didn’t during the Tour of Turkey. With Van der Poel likely to leave early and Merlier's staying power in doubt, Philipsen could mop up in Stage 19 and 21 if he makes it that far.
A stage winner on the Vuelta six years ago, Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) only has one victory since 2018 so he is very much an outsider, as is Britain’s Dan McLay (Arkéa-Samsic), who returns to the Tour after four years away. Meanwhile, the powerful Spaniard Ivan Garcia (Movistar) doesn’t win often (just twice, in fact) but has the brute force to muscle himself into contention (for a stage win, that is, not the green jersey).
The no-chancers: Theuns, Cort, Van Avermaet, Stuyven, Mezgec
Belgian trio Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Greg van Avermaet (Ag2R-Citröen) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) all have the class and skillset to win a stage from a breakaway, but surely not in a bunch sprint. They also lack the consistency to have any bearing on the green jersey battle. The same could be said for Slovenian veteran Luka Mezgec (Team BikeExchange), although he did twice finish runner-up in last year’s Tour.
Green jersey rider ratings
***** Demare, Ewan **** Sagan, Van der Poel *** Van Aert, Colbrelli ** Matthews, Merlier * Cavendish, Greipel, Bouhanni, Coquard, Pedersen