Blazin' Saddles: Tour de France 2018 green jersey guide - Sagan, Matthews, Gaviria, Kittel...
Michael Matthews saw off Marcel Kittel to end Peter Sagan's long run in green last year after the Slovakian showman was kicked off the race for his perceived role in causing the crash that ended Mark Cavendish's Tour. While all four of those sprinters will be back in 2018, the biggest obstacle to a sixth green jersey for Sagan may come from the debutant Fernando Gaviria.
The green jersey is worn by the leader of the race's points classification which, unlike the Vuelta, is a competition traditionally favouring the sprinters. Points are awarded at the finish of every stage – except the team time trial – and at the single intermediate sprint during each road stages.
Peter Sagan has targeted a sixth green jersey on the Tour de FrancePA Sport
The breakdown of points is such:
- Flat stages (1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 13, 18, 21): 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 points for the first 15 riders
- Hilly/cobble stages (6, 9, 14, 15): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
- Mountain stages (10, 11, 12, 17, 20): 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
- Individual time trial (6): 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
Let's have a look at the sprinters and weigh up who has the best shot of winning green – indicated with a rating from 1 to 5 stars. One sprinter who won't be there is Australia's Caleb Ewan, who was controversially omitted from a Mitchelton-Scott eight-man team that is going all in for Adam Yates's tilt at GC.
Peter Sagan (28, Bora-Hansgrohe) *****
Peter Sagan wins the green jersey in 2016PA Sport
The world champion has not exactly been a winning machine this season, but his victory in Paris-Roubaix will put him in the driving seat for Stage 9, and he managed to beat Colombia's Fernando Gaviria in a bunch kick in the Tour de Suisse earlier in the month.
One thing that may count against Sagan is the lack of the kind of uphill punchy finishes that play to his strengths. But the Slovakian national champion still knows what it takes to win the green jersey on five consecutive occasions: he has the consistency to finish highly in the sprints and the ability to get in the right breaks to snare intermediate points. As a result, four-fifths of his first 100 days on the Tour were spent in green – quite an astonishing feat.
In his first five Tours Sagan won the green jersey with huge totals of 421pts, 409pts, 431pts, 432pts and 470pts – dwarfing Mark Cavendish's previous winning haul of 334pts and Matthew's total of 370pts last year – while only winning a comparatively paltry eight stages. This goes to show how Sagan's green armoury stretches far beyond his capacity to stand atop the podium.
And after last year's harsh disqualification, he'll be chomping at the bit to draw level with Erik Zabel's record six green jersey wins.
Michael Matthews (27, Team Sunweb) ***
Australia's Michael Matthews (R) wearing the best sprinter's green jersey in 2017Getty Images
In Sagan's absence last year, the Australian won the green jersey very much in the same way as his rival – winning two stages he had no right to win and in doing so, piling the pressure on the rider who looked destined to wear green all the way to Paris: Marcel Kittel.
An ability to get into the right breaks and pick up points here and there saw Matthews come within nine points of Kittel when he crashed out of the race in Stage 17 – despite the German having earlier won five bunch sprints to lead his rival by 133pts.
Acting against Matthews is the fact that Sunweb may have Tom Dumoulin battling for the yellow jersey, in which case the team's priorities will no doubt be shifted somewhat. That and the poor form following a fractured shoulder that has hampered the Australian since Tirreno-Adriatico, restricting his victories to a sole prologue time trial win in Romandie. He's certainly been more bargain-basement than bling this season.
Marcel Kittel (30, Katusha-Alpecin) **
Marcel Kittel wins his fifth stage in 2017Getty Images
The peloton's most accomplished flat-track bully has seen his form nosedive since leaving Quick-Step in the close season. Two wins at Tirreno-Adriatico seemed to mark a return to form, but Kittel has since struggled and looks a shadow of the rider who won five stages of the Tour in 2017 and four stages in both 2013 and 2014.
At this point in time, Nacer Bouhanni looks more likely bet to win his maiden Tour stage rather than Kittel winning his 15th when the race starts in the Vendee on 7th July. That said, Kittel, although psychologically brittle, has an ability to bounce back. Moreover, he's twice worn the yellow jersey after opening day wins, so it would hardly be atypical for the German to make it a hat-trick in Fontenay-le-Comte.
But as for the green jersey – well, it would be a huge upset if Kittel were to come anywhere close. He should have won it last year – and that was when he was winning stages. This year it's hard to see where the points would come from.
Alexander Kristoff (30, UAE Team Emirates) *
Alexander Kristoff of NorwayEurosport
The rider who Kittel replaced at Katusha-Alpecin has had his own troubles adapting to a new team this year with just the four wins to date for the out-of-sorts Norwegian. Indeed, Kristoff's last victory in the Tour came way back in 2014 and he'll find it tough to change that while freelancing for a team whose main priority will be a high overall finish for their GC man, Dan Martin.
Fernando Gaviria (23, Quick-Step Floors) ****
Fernando Gaviria wins again on the 2017 Giro d'ItaliaGetty Images
The reason why Kittel was allowed to leave Quick-Step (to replace Kristoff at Katusha) in the first place was the team's high regard for Colombian speedster Gaviria, who now makes his long-awaited Tour debut amid more expectation than a new Guns 'N Roses album. Having won four stages and the maglia ciclamino at his maiden Giro d'Italia last year, Gaviria now hopes to make the same impression in the world's biggest bike race.
If three runner-up spots in sprints in the Tour de Suisse didn't bode too well, it will have at least reminded the youngster that winning on the Tour de France won't be all plain sailing. But with the likes of Tim Declercq, Niki Terpstra, Yves Lampaert and pilot Max Richeze working for him, Gaviria will have ladles of experience to draw from. And if he gets off to a winning start, it may well be hard for anyone except the consistent Sagan to come anywhere near in the battle for green.
Dylan Groenewegen (25, LottoNL-Jumbo) **
Team Lotto NL-Jumbo Dutch cyclist Dylan Groenewegen wins stage 2 of Paris-NiceGetty Images
A surprise winner on the Champs-Elysees last July, the Dutch powerhouse came of age in Paris and already has nine wins this season prior to the Tour. While he may lack the consistency to mount a true challenge for the green jersey, you'd think that Groenewegen will be able to add to his tally. Of all the outsiders, Groenewegen is perhaps the most appealing - as much for his own ability as for the support he'll get from team-mates Paul Martens, Timo Roosen and Amund Jansen.
Arnaud Demare (26, Groupama-FDJ) ***
Arnaud Démare dons green after winning stage 4 in VittelGetty Images
With no Thibaut Pinot in the team, Groupama-FDJ will concentrate their efforts on the French fast man Demare, who won (controversially) in Vittel to take green on the day that Sagan and Cavendish tangled last year. The Frenchman has had a muted season thus far but is coming into decent form with a win in Switzerland adding to his only previous scalp of the season at Paris-Nice.
While a fast finisher, Demare is an example of yet another rider who will struggle to be a factor in the green jersey battle owing to his inability to get into breaks or over the tough climbs while still in touch with the peloton. He's also susceptible to the heat and illness. That said, with trusty pilots Jacopo Guarnieri and Ramon Sinkeldam making up one of the most impressive trains in the business, Demare should be right up there in the pure sprints.
Mark Cavendish (33, Dimension-Data) **
Team Dimension Data rider Mark Cavendish of Britain celebratesReuters
Winner of the green jersey in 2011, Cavendish has since added enough stage wins to see him up to second place in the standings of all-time Tour stage winners – just four victories behind Eddy Merckx's tally of 34. A nasty shoulder injury put pay to his bid to close the gap last year, and the form guide suggests that the Manxman will struggle to add to his 30 Tour stage wins not just this year but at all.
With just the single scalp this term from Dubai back in February, Cavendish seems to have lost both his kick and daredevil attitude – both perhaps diluted by the effects of growing older and seeing fatherhood overtake sprinting as his main driving force.
It's now a decade since Cavendish burst onto the scene with four Tour stage wins and it would be a huge surprise if he were to replicate that again this year from nowhere. That said, Cav has been written off more than Herbie, the clapped-out Volkswagen Beetle. So, while we won't rule him out of picking up a win, we will state here and now that the British veteran has no chance at winning green.
Sonny Colbrelli (28, Bahrain Merida) *
On his day, the Italian can match the speed of the very best pure sprinters. The problem is that his day only comes once in a blue moon. And to win green, you need your day to come as regularly as any type of moon, really.
Christophe Laporte (25, Cofidis) *
Championnat de France : ITW LaporteEurosport
French team Cofidis have thrown Laporte a bone this July, favouring the youngster over the fiery (yet out-of-sorts) Nacer Bouhanni. Given Bouhanni's dismal track record in the Tour - plus his continued altercations with team-mates - this is perhaps not surprising. After all, Laporte has more wins to his name than Bouhanni this season - including that notable Tro-Bro Leon scalp.
And yet, Laporte's selection over Bouhanni also looks to be something of a gamble for Cofidis boss Cedric Vasseur: in three Tours, the rangy sprinter has never finished higher than fifth place in a sprint. Still, he'll have more support from him than the unpopular Bouhanni and team morale will be much higher because of it. But the green jersey - no way.
Andre Greipel (35, Lotto Soudal) *
Andre Greipel on the podium in Paris after winning stage 21 of the Tour de FranceEurosport
The German veteran's failure to win a stage in last year's Tour marked his first winless Grand Tour in 13 consecutive attempts. Greipel was back to winning ways at the Tour Down Under in January and has already notched more wins this year than he did throughout 2017.
But you sense that the sands of time are emptying the hourglass for Greipel – and with Lotto Soudal expected to announce the arrival of Caleb Ewan in August, this could be the 35-year-old's last chance to leave his mark on a race where he's stood victorious on 11 occasions. While stranger things have happened than Greipel going into yellow on day one, he really has no chance of taking the green jersey to Paris.
John Degenkolb (29, Trek-Segafredo) *
John DegenkolbGetty Images
Without a major win this season and with only eight scalps to his name since his memorable Sanremo-Roubaix double back in 2015, Degenkolb has been unable to produce anything near his best since that terrible training accident two years ago. Sadly, there's no reason to think that things will be any different for the German in this year's Tour.
Greg van Avermaet (33, BMC) *
The Olympic champion worked tirelessly for Richie Porte during the Tour de Suisse and his role will very much be one of domestique this July – although he may get his chances in the stage to Roubaix and in the Massif Central, where he won and took the maillot jaune two years back. Even if Porte cracks early, the green jersey will be beyond the Belgian.
Jose Joaquin Rojas (33, Movistar) *
Like Van Avermaet, the Spanish veteran's role will be one of domestique rather than sprinter or stage hunter. Unlike the Belgian, Rojas's team boasts three leaders in Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, muzzling his chances of personal glory even further.
Magnus Cort Nielsen (25, Astana) *
Magnus Cort Nielsen wins for AstanaGetty Images
Two wins since joining from Orica-Scott in the close season, the Dane has showed his class in patches and will be Astana's man for the sprints and flat stages in his debut Tour this July. He's versatile and consistent but does not win enough to be green jersey material.
On Friday we return with the polka-dot and white jersey guides ahead of the 2018 Tour de France, which starts on Saturday 7th July.