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RODEZ, France (VN) — The battle for the Tour de France’s points jersey remains close, as two riders on opposite ends of the sprint spectrum pass the lead back and forth in a green-tinted game of hot potato. Where the maillot vert will land in Paris is anyone’s guess.
After losing the virtual green to André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) following Friday’s intermediate sprint, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) regained the lead with a second-place finish in Rodez. But the gap is still slim — Sagan leads by 24 points.
Though opportunities to score points are dwindling, there are still scenarios in which Greipel takes the green points jersey to Paris, or takes it from Sagan on the Champs-Élysées itself. However, there are even more scenarios in which Sagan goes out on top.
In Greipel’s pursuit of the green jersey, the next two stages, leading into the second rest day, could be his undoing, and Paris could be his savior. The opposite is true for Sagan.
How the Gorilla can win
In almost every feasible scenario, green for Greipel hinges on a victory on the Champs-Élysées — preferably with Sagan quite a few places behind — and the big German’s ability to get over a category 2 climb in the middle of Sunday’s stage.
That’s because the ASO, in an effort to shake up a competition that has been dominated by the Slovak for three years, dramatically increased the available points at the finish lines of flat stages, reducing the onus on the intermediate sprints at which Sagan excels.
There are 50 points available at the finish on the Champs-Élysées and on Sunday in Valence, compared to only 30 on Friday and Saturday.
Sunday’s stage to Valence is worth 50 thanks to a relatively flat 60km run-in from the top of the final climb, the category 2 Col de l’Escrinet. Assuming Sagan can make it over this climb, Greipel must do so as well or else his green-jersey hopes will likely be lost.
Greipel could be helped tremendously if breakaways, the bigger the better, are allowed to head off the front early, mopping up intermediate points. He will make it to the intermediate on Saturday, with only a cat. 4 between the start and the sprint, but doing so on Sunday will be more difficult.
The math for Greipel, then, is somewhat simple: Win on the Champs, get over the Col de l’Escrinet on stage 15, and win or come in second at the finish, and hang on until the intermediate sprint in stage 14. If he can do all three, the maillot vert should be his; if he misses even one, Sagan will pounce.
He will also want to stick with the bunch and contest the intermediate sprint on the road to Gap on Monday, stage 16, which comes after 86 kilometers without any major climbs but which gains altitude throughout. If he can do so, the three stages through the Alps will take care of themselves, as each features a stiff climb prior to the intermediate sprint that should shed both Sagan and Greipel.
How Sagan can win
The math looks better for Sagan, if we’re honest.
That’s mostly because, unlike Greipel, Sagan’s road to a fourth green jersey runs through consistency, rather than victory. He doesn’t need to win anything between Rodez and Paris, he just needs to mop up points hidden behind the mountains — points Greipel may not be able to reach.
Sagan has a team now, too. Stage 13 marked the first time Tinkoff put any real team effort into Sagan’s green-jersey chase. It has previously allowed him to freelance for the entirety of the first week without so much as a single man at his side.
On the road to Rodez, the entire team pulled back the day’s six-man breakaway, setting Sagan up for a sprint to second and another 25 points. With Contador’s ability to win the Tour looking doubtful, Sagan will have domestiques at his disposal over the coming days.
Saturday’s finish in Mende is likely too difficult for Sagan — Chris Froome (Sky) predicted attacks from GC favorites on the 3km climb to the line — but he will certainly make it to the intermediate sprint.
Sunday is an opportunity for Sagan, as the lumpy profile could shed Greipel early. Sagan needs to cross his fingers for a small breakaway, leaving plenty of intermediate points left over for him.
If the Slovak can roll onto the Champ-Élysées with a lead of 33 or more points, he should feel confident. With such a gap, Greipel can win the stage and Sagan must only come in fourth — a result that is not beyond his capabilities.
Best of the rest
Mark Cavendish’s (Etixx-Quick-Step) green jersey hopes are mostly gone, as he sits nearly 100 points behind.
The chances for John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), on the other hand, are very much alive. Like Sagan, Degenkolb can get over climbs quite well. He was fourth on Friday, adding 19 points to his tally. He will be able to contest most of the intermediate sprints over the coming stages, and a win in Valence or on the Champs is not beyond the realm of possibility. With a victory in either stage, he’d jump right into the mix with Sagan and Greipel.
“I’m just trying to be as good as possible to the classification there. Maybe it is also the last day that decides in on the Champs-Élysées, as with the new [rules], there are more points on the flat stages,” he said prior to Friday’s stage.
The math may be easy, but the riding, as always, will be somewhat more complicated.
Points picture, following stage 13:
Peter Sagan — 285 points
André Greipel — 261 points
John Degenkolb — 228 points
Mark Cavendish — 192 points