La Vuelta 2020 - It’s time to fix La Vuelta’s points jersey
When Sam Bennett was relegated, rightly, from today’s La Vuelta sprint results, he lost any chance of taking home the green jersey – ceding the 25 points he’d just made back on the lead of Primoz Roglic.
The absorbing thing about a stage race is the narratives that run within it; a series of different threads that all create a tapestry greater than the sum of its parts. The leaders’ jerseys are the visual representation of these various strands of story, a reason for every type of rider to go out and fight every day.
Most famously, the skinny guys battling for the GC get a yellow, red or pink tricot for their troubles, while the opportunists pass something spotty back and forth every time the road turns upwards. The fastest and flashiest riders have their own competition too – the points jersey – which at Le Tour and La Vuelta is green, and at Il Giro is cyclamen.
However, something is broken in La Vuelta’s points classification, favouring as it does the same guys likely to win the climbers’ and general classifications. It means that a loss of 25 points like Bennett incurred today effectively ends the battle for a sprinter to win the classification with half the race yet to come.
This disjointed phenomena is aptly evidenced by the sartorially contentious green jersey of Primoz Roglic, who has been the leader of the points competition since day one of the 2020 Vuelta. Even if Bennett had not been relegated, the Irishman would still have sat 54 points adrift of the Slovenian.
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When Roglic has been in red, the green has been worn by either Richard Carapaz or Dan Martin – neither is known for their rapid finish, nor their ability to fearlessly (but legally) bump elbows at 70kph in the fight for a rival’s wheel.
These GC specialists have been wearing the green not because they have really dialled in their sprintcraft of late, but because at La Vuelta points are awarded equally whether a stage finish is atop an Especial category mountain, or on the flattest of pan-flat transition days.
The first finisher always gets 25 points and then a decreasing number are given to those in the next positions.
The points for an intermediate sprint are also derisory, so that one must win seven of them (and there is only ever one per stage) to equal a full stage victory. This means you rarely if ever see a sprinter scrapping for the Vuelta points jersey by getting up the road, the manner in which Peter Sagan has won so many green jerseys at Le Tour, despite being a slower sprinter in the bunch gallop than the likes of Caleb Ewan or Marcel Kittel.
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The wrongheadedness of classification is evidenced by the fact that no sprinter has won the points jersey at La Vuelta since John Degenkolb in 2014, and even he is not a perfect example of a ‘pure’ sprinter.
Going back two years further to La Vuelta 2012, Degenkolb took five stage wins and still only finished fourth in the green jersey, behind Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, and Alberto Contador. One must reach back a full decade to 2010 when Mark Cavendish won the sprinter’s competition at La Vuelta, and he did so in a year with seven flat finishes, to 2020’s three.
It’s not that one begrudges Roglic or Valverde a jersey to go on their wall, it’s that the overweighting of summit finishes renders the efforts of the world’s best sprinters unrewarded and La Vuelta’s points jersey largely meaningless. All too often it is won by the rider who won the red jersey, or by another rider from the elite end of the GC.
Subsequently, the true sprinters – the ones that bring a points jersey contest to life – very often don’t turn up to La Vuelta. And if you won’t try and entice the best sprinters to your race, why plan in sprint stages at all?
It is still mathematically possible for Bennett (or another sprinter) to catch Roglic’s points total at this stage and to take the green jersey in Madrid as he did in Paris, but it is an unnecessarily farfetched scenario that pours a bucket of cold water over any potential excitement about battles between the sprinters for a jersey of their own.
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Of course, getting relegated from one of the scant few sprint stages of the race doesn’t help Bennett’s cause all that much.
It’s not just that Roglic and co’s lead seems insurmountable by winning stages, there’s also no incentive for a rider like Pascal Ackermann or Jasper Phillipsen to get themselves in a break to try and snipe some intermediate points, so paltry are the rewards.
Even if the points on offer for intermediates were better, they would still have to contend with the mega point-bonanzas enjoyed by the GC riders at every mountaintop finish, while the sprinters battle simply to survive inside the time cut.
At Le Tour this year it was the green jersey battle that proved more absorbing than the one for yellow – until the final day when Tadej Pogacar tore Roglic’s hopes to shreds – but at La Vuelta it now feels a forgone conclusion. The tapestry of the race is one strand duller, one plot-line brought to a premature end.