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Tour de France

Peter Sagan back just in time for Tour de France green jersey battle royale

The battle for the green jersey between Peter Sagan, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel could be one for the ages.

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Win is winPeter Sagan is back just in time for a revival at the Tour de France and what could be a thrilling battle for the green jersey.

Sagan kicked to victory Tuesday at the Tour de Suisse to remind everyone how damn good he is.

In a much-needed salve after months of health issues, setbacks, and other frustrations, perhaps Sagan finally will have an open road to the Tour. His loyal fans will be hoping so.

The coronavirus was tough on everyone, but Sagan’s seemingly suffered more than most. The three-time world champion’s been zapped by the nasty virus at least twice, and he’s struggled to match his searing best the past few seasons.

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The once-prolific Sagan used to reel off wins as quickly as easily as wheelies, but his output dived in 2020, with just one win at the “COVID Giro” that year. Last year he won five times, but COVID bit him again last winter, derailing his spring classics campaign.

What’s a three-time world champion to do? Retreat to the warm mountain climes of Utah, of course.

A few weeks of romping in the Utah sun and elevation with favorite sidekick Daniel Oss seems to have done the trick. An appearance at Unbound Gravel was the finishing touch before his European grand return.

Tuesday’s win was his first in 2022, and his first in new team colors at Total Energies. The pressure if off.

And it couldn’t have come soon enough.

Sagan’s health issues the past 24 months or so persisted just as budding superstars Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel emerged from the mud of cyclocross to dominate the classics and the kind of grinding, explosive finales that used to be Sagan’s domain.

Green jersey battle could be the most contested in Tour de France

Peter Sagan looks to be back on track just in time for the Tour de France. (Photo: VeloNews/James Startt)

Can Sagan rediscover his mojo in time to make a run at an eighth green points jersey at the Tour? Let’s hope so.

If Sagan is truly back or close to his pre-COVID best, then the battle for green could very much be a lot more interesting than the race for the yellow tunic.

Jumbo-Visma made a big impression last week at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but many pundits expect Tadej Pogačar to steamroll the peloton for his third maillot jaune on the trot.

Last week, some insiders were already grumbling that Jumbo-Visma might have peaked too soon, and Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard could run out of gas before the third week of the Tour, still more than a month away.

Taking nothing away from anyone else lining up in Copenhagen, but if Pogačar survives the opening week without any major mishaps, crashes, or illness, the race could well be on for the podium.

If Sagan is indeed back at his best — remember, he was dropped in the opening two stages at the Swiss tour this week — it would only be a boon for the 2022 Tour.

Sagan is deservedly one of the most popular riders in the bunch. A poster boy of the famed “Class of 1990,” Sagan delighted a generation of fans with his racing grit, showmanship, and overall starlike qualities both on and off the bike.

Sagan always takes time to visit with fans at races. Some pros will barely smile or nod to fans, let alone stop for photos or autographs. Sagan is always available to stop for a young fan’s selfie.

Sagan will return to the Tour next month with Total Energies, where he will have much of the team at his disposal.

His timely return to the winner’s bracket could set up a spectacular battle for the green jersey between Sagan and upstarts Van Aert and Van der Poel, not to mention a handful of other sprinters.

A battle between Slovenians for the yellow jersey might not get the pulses racing for some fans, but seeing the sport’s biggest names slug it out for green could be something special.

Van Aert looked unstoppable last week at the Dauphiné, when he very nearly won all five of the opening stages. He won twice and romped to the points jersey unchallenged.

Van der Poel confirmed he has the depth to go the distance in July after completing his first grand tour in May at the Giro d’Italia, where he won once, finished second twice, and third in the final time trial.

Both Van Aert and Van der Poel are putting green at the center of their Tour ambitions.

The green jersey was long Sagan’s unchallenged terrain. He won every year from 2012 to 2019, except in 2017 when he was kicked out of the race by the race jury in his controversial exclusion involving Mark Cavendish in stage 4.

Winning green is about consistency, winning a few stages, and having the ability to get over mountains to challenge for points where the other rivals cannot.

Sagan used to be king of that hill, but just having the hope that Sagan and all of his superstar wattage back in fray will only help the 2022 Tour.

The battle for green could be the most interesting part of the race.