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Sagan back in green, and it might be for good

Although he started the Tour almost unrecognizable in his trade team kit, Peter Sagan is back in the more familiar green jersey. Having won the points competition in every Tour he's finished, you might as well get used to seeing him in it.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was a bike-throw away from having the perfect start to the 2019 Tour de France.

Three days later, the Tour is back in France and Sagan is back in green. Monday’s rollercoaster third stage brought the Tour back to French roads and saw Sagan slip back into the familiar sight of him in the green jersey. After a hiccup Saturday, all is right again in Planet Tour.

“I finished fifth, taking fourth place in the bunch sprint, and together with the points in the intermediate sprint, I now have the green jersey,” Sagan said. “I’m obviously happy to pull it on on the podium and I look forward to the next stages.”

The 29-year-old superstar came into this Tour bent on quieting critics who have been whispering that perhaps the Slovakian superstar had lost his edge. With only three wins this season and a spring classics campaign without a major victory, Sagan’s revenge tour was abruptly short-circuited Saturday with a bike-throw that pipped at the line.

Stage 1 saw Sagan denied by a rim’s width. Photo: A.S.O-Pool/Getty Images

Saturday’s heartbreak for Sagan was a dream come true for Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma), who defied the odds when the crash-marred finale took out his teammate and top sprinter Dylan Groenewegen. Teunissen kept fighting and delivered the biggest win of his career to surprise Sagan at the line.

“To get the yellow jersey ahead of Sagan makes it even more special,” said Teunissen, who became the first Dutch rider since Erik Breukink in the 1989 Tour to wear the leader’s jersey. “In a normal sprint, I would never beat Sagan. It was a special situation.”

If anything, Sagan just keeps banging on. And that’s what he did Monday in the hilly finale across France’s champagne region. It’s his trademark consistency is what earns him points, so it’s no surprise he’s back in green.

Sagan was stewing Saturday after missing the chance to snag his third career yellow jersey — he wore it in 2016 and again in 2018 — but in typical Sagan fashion, quickly put it behind him with a few shoulder shrugs.

Sagan started the 2019 Tour with similar goals but with a unique twist. The targets remain the same, with at least one stage win and the points jersey. What was different this weekend is that the wildly popular star started in Brussels in a rare sight of wearing his trade team jersey.

From 2016-2018, Sagan started each Tour wearing the rainbow jersey of the world champion. And since he has won a record-tying six green jerseys dating back to 2012, it’s a rare day to see Sagan racing in his regular team kit. In fact, Saturday’s stage was the first time since stage 11 at the 2015 Tour that Sagan raced in his team kit in a road stage.

That anecdote didn’t last long. Sagan was already tied with Teunissen on points since Saturday, with 50 each, but placement put the Dutchman in yellow and green. So Sagan started Sunday’s and Monday’s stages wearing the green jersey because Teunissen was in yellow.

It wasn’t until Monday that Sagan officially earned it. Teunissen was dropped under late pressure Monday, and Sagan kicked to fifth, scoring points to earn the green points jersey outright.

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) delivered a stunning solo victory Monday to snatch away yellow, spoiling another chance for Sagan to win a stage. Ever consistent, Sagan kicked to fifth, and was back on the post-race podium as the points leader for the 104thday of his career.

“It was not a sprint (finish). It was the battle for the loser … second place,” Sagan said Monday. “Tomorrow I think is more flat, we’ll see. I will try.”

Seeing cycling’s self-styled Hulk back in green is nothing new.

Even when Sagan doesn’t win, he’s almost always in the points. He packs 11 stage wins in his Tour career, but won the points jersey in 2014 and 2015 without winning a stage. Even when he doesn’t win, he’s either on the podium or the top-10. Plus, he has the legs to make it over the mountains while many of the pure sprinters can miss the time cut. That’s why he’s all but certain to win a record seventh green jersey this year.

“If someone is going to beat my record, I will be glad to see Peter do it,” said Erik Zabel, the German ex-pro who won six straight green jerseys from 1996 to 2001. “He’s a big champion and he deserves it if can win it.”

Sagan is Zabel-like in his ability to dominate the green jersey competition.

Sagan has won green every year he’s finished the Tour since his debut in 2012. The only year he hasn’t won was in 2017, when he was kicked out of the race in the controversial disqualification in a run-in with Mark Cavendish in stage 4.

A somewhat younger-looking Sagan took his first green jersey in 2012. Photo: Tim De Waele

After just three stages, Sagan already has a promising 27-point lead to Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who won in 2017 when Sagan was kicked out. He’s more than 50 points ahead of such sprinters as Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Groenewegen. Sagan’s consistency at the finish line coupled with his ability to challenge for mid-race intermediate sprints and get over climbs makes it difficult to beat him.

A new points system introduced a few years ago – some say to make it more difficult for Sagan to win – has actually made it easier for the ever-consistent Sagan to scoop up points. Wins are heavily weighted in the flat stages, with 50 points for the winner, but because Sagan can punch into the top-5 even on stages when the pure sprinters might be dropped, he can quickly score points and distance his rivals. Intermediate sprints offer 20 points to the winner, much more than the 3, 2, 1-point system of before, also help Sagan pile it on.

So much so that most of his rivals have said they’re not even going to challenge for the green jersey unless they reel off a string of stage wins.

“I really struggled with today, and it’s only the third day,” Matthews said at the line Monday. “My feeling is not great at the moment. I will keep fighting every day.”

With the green jersey back on his shoulders, Sagan now turns his attention to winning a stage. While stages Saturday and Monday presented Sagan with realistic chances, Tuesday’s relatively traditional run into Nancy for stage 4 should favor the pure sprinters, such as Groenewegen or Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).

“We were hoping to take the win with Peter,” said Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Enrico Poitschke. “In the end, Peter claimed the green jersey while our GC riders were in the front, well positioned, and avoided losing any time to the main contenders.”

Sagan is looking further down the road. Since he’s always knocking at the door, a stage victory eventually succumbs to Sagan’s charms. And now that he’s back in green, it might be for good.