The fight for green could be as open as ever at the Tour de France.
One of the most iconic sights in the peloton, the green jersey was first introduced to the Tour in 1953 to celebrate the race’s 50th birthday. Originally a competition to take the fewest points, it has morphed over the last 68 years to a battle for the largest number.
Though primarily a contest for the sprinters in the peloton, riders need to be consistent over a variety of terrains if they want to make it to Paris in the maillot vert.
Also read: Will Peter Sagan win another green jersey?
Versatility is why Peter Sagan has dominated the competition since he made his Tour debut back in 2012. Since then, the Slovakian has spent a whopping 75 percent of the Tour stages he’s ridden wearing the green jersey.
It took his former teammate Sam Bennett, in the shape of his life, to loosen Sagan’s iron grip on green last year. The Irishman beat the Slovakian by some 96 points in the end.
The contenders for green
Sprinters abound on the Tour de France start list but only a select few stand a realistic chance of winning the green jersey.
Most of the fast men will brush aside any talk about the points competition early on as they seek a stage win, but the cream will rise to the top.
Unless something dramatic happens, Sagan will be a firm bet as a serious player in the points classification. After his 2020 defeat, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider will be keener than ever to return to his green throne.
It will have frustrated him that he could not get the better of Bennett in 202o, and he’ll be buoyed by his recent ciclamino success at the Giro d’Italia. As nice as it is, ciclamino just isn’t the same as green, and an eighth points title would set a record that is unlikely to be beaten for many years.
Sagan’s ability to tough it out on more challenging terrains than the pure sprinters stands him in good stead in this competition but he’ll need to be winning stages if he wants to take the jersey back.
Bennett’s title defense looks uncertain for the moment after he picked up a knee injury during training last week. It is less than ideal preparation, but if he can shake the knock then he is still a serious threat.
Bennett has been one of the most prolific sprinters throughout 2021 with seven wins in total, and with his Deceuninck-Quick-Step train, he would be the man to beat on the flat finishes. Mark Cavendish could be a possible replacement if Bennett can’t find the fitness for the Tour, but it might be too much to expect of the Manxman – despite his extensive palmarès – to ride for green.
Sitting just behind Bennett in the win stakes this year are Alpecin-Fenix duo Mathieu van der Poel and Tim Merlier. Ordinarily, van der Poel would be a shoo-in for the green jersey competition but it’s unlikely that he will ride all the way to Paris as he also prepares for the mountain bike race at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Merlier is not yet confirmed for the Tour de France, but he has all the hallmarks of a green jersey contender should he line up in Brittany. A rising star in the road peloton, he has been one of the most consistent riders this year.
Caleb Ewan is on a mission to win a stage of each of the grand tours in a single year. After taking home two at the Giro d’Italia before abandoning with a knee problem on stage 8, the Australian pocket rocket has turned his attention to the Tour.
It’s unclear if he’ll ride to Paris with a third grand tour on the horizon but if he’s going to go all the way in one then it has to be the Tour de France. One of the fastest on the flat, Ewan showed at Milano-Sanremo earlier this year just how well he can climb when he’s on form, so he should be able to battle it out on the lumpy stuff if he chooses to get involved in the fight.
An absolute grind to the line today! Well worth it though for my second stage win of this years @giroditalia 😅 What a performance by my team also! So proud of them! @Lotto_Soudal pic.twitter.com/5CRfyYbWBH
— Caleb Ewan (@CalebEwan) May 15, 2021
Amidst all of this, the home nation has its own pretender to the green throne in Arnaud Démare. The 29-year-old is set to ride the Grand Boucle for the first time since 2018, when he finished third in the points classification after winning a stage.
Démare made a major step forward in grand tours last year by taking home the Giro d’Italia’s ciclamino jersey ahead of Sagan and four stage victories. The Frenchman has won more than any other sprinter this year and will have plenty of back-up with Thibaut Pinot likely to miss the Tour.
Where the green jersey will be won
Over the years, just how the green jersey is awarded has been tweaked. The current points allocation is geared heavily towards flat stages, with a smaller number of points available as the course gets tougher.
Points are not only available at the finish line but at the intermediate sprint, and we could see some interesting mid-stage contests as the race progresses. Whether it be the intermediate sprint or the finish line, points are awarded for the first 15 across the line so there is still plenty to play for even when a break has gone up the road.
Flat finishes offer up 50 points for the winner, with 30 going to second, and 20 to third. Hilly finales, such as those seen on the opening weekend in Brittany, will give the winner 30 points.
Meanwhile, the victors on high-mountain stages will only get 20 points for their tally, the same as if they had taken the intermediate sprint.
The 2021 Tour de France route features eight flat stages, one fewer than in 2020, and five hilly ones. This is where the bulk of the green jersey contest will be fought but a successful breakaway in the mountains could bring in some extra points.
The location of the intermediate sprint differs each day, but the sprinters will rarely have to tackle a big climb before reaching it, making it a target open to many more riders.
The green jersey competition is the only classification fight that remains open right until the final day, let’s hope that this one goes down to the wire.