Tour de France
All of a sudden, the battle for the green jersey...

Démare, Kittel filling Sagan’s green void

Without Peter Sagan to dominate the Tour's green jersey competition, Marcel Kittel and Arnaud Démare find themselves in a tight race.

TROYES, France (VN) — Erik Zabel’s record of six green jerseys is safe for now.

For the first time since 2012, the points jersey is up for grabs, but for all the wrong reasons.

Peter Sagan looked to have a bead on Zabel’s record. In fact, after Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step) won his first stage in stage 2, he said the only way he could win the green jersey is if Sagan crashed out.

Well, Sagan didn’t crash, but he’s gone after his controversial exclusion. And the fight for green is revving up.

“Well, the chances are better now,” Kittel said. “At the moment I do not dream of it, but I am focused on it. It is very important to win points with stage victories, because that is when you pick up the most points. Let’s see where I am in five-six-seven stages from now. Maybe it comes down to the last sprint in Paris.”

If the green jersey remains that tight all the way to Paris, it would be a departure from the narrative since Sagan’s emergence. He was so consistent in every stage that Sagan typically had the green jersey all but tied up by the first rest day.

The battle looks to be shaping up between Kittel and French champion Arnaud Démare (FDJ). Kittel won his second stage of this Tour, but Démare is taking control of green.

“I now have this jersey, and now I will try to keep it,” Démare said. “The main goal is to win stages, but today I also picked up some points. Why not? I like it.”

Démare leads with 170 points to Kittel’s 143. Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who has yet to win a stage, is third with 96 points. The Australian said he wants to get wins first before he starts thinking about green.

“I’m not thinking too much about the green jersey right now,” Matthews said. “The priority is to win a stage. If you win a stage or two, that puts you in the running for the green jersey pretty fast.”

Locals are getting excited about Démare’s chances. (Some conspiracy buffs have even suggested that the race jury ejected Sagan to bolster a home win.) If he does manage to win, it would be the first time this century that a Frenchman was in the green jersey mix.

France has won nine green jerseys — second on the all-time list behind Belgium’s 19 — but it hasn’t been much of a factor since the 1990s. Laurent Jalabert won two green jerseys, in 1992 and 1995. No Frenchman has come close since.

In fact, Démare’s win this week was the first by a Frenchman in a bunch sprint since Jimmy Casper in the 2006 Tour. With Démare, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), and Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard (who is not racing this year), the French once again have a presence in the mass gallops.

Whoever wins green this year, it will be a new name. With Mark Cavendish crashing and Sagan kicked out, there are no other active riders who’ve previously won green.

If Kittel and Démare keep battling, we still might see one of those finish-line battles on the Champs-Élysées coming down to the final bike throw. That’s how the green jersey fight is supposed to be.