Even though both Mark Cavendish and Sam Bennett will watch this year’s Tour de France from the comfort of their respective sofas, there’s still an incredible depth of talent when it comes to the sprinters and the favorites for the green jersey in this year’s race.
A number of the sprinters will not have designs on the green jersey, and the smart money will be on van Aert taking green to Paris if his knee remains pain free.
That said, who better to analyze the fastmen and points chasers than five time stage winner and four time green jersey holder Sean Kelly.
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“Jakobsen for me is going to be the best sprinter at the Tour,” Kelly told VeloNews on the eve of the Tour de France. “Then you have Jasper Philipsen for consideration as well. What gives Jakobsen the edge is that he has by far the best lead out in the race. Sometimes though, in the Tour, you can be looking good in the build up and then all of a sudden another rider gets incredible form at the right time.”
The Eurosport commentator acknowledges that Jakobsen had never raced the Tour de France, and that the pressure in July is altogether something different to that of the Vuelta, where the Dutch rider has been successful in the past. Not to mention the fact that Quick-Step’s roster has gone all-in on Jakobsen with no GC rider or back-up sprinter. For Kelly, that’s both a positive and a negative.
“For Jakobsen, the team is entirely for him. Like I said, he has the best lead out by far. There’s no GC card at QuickStep, so it’s all for the Dutch rider. He’s the boy to beat, and if you beat Jakobsen you’ve probably won. I do think that Philipsen will push him close though. It’s always about getting it perfectly right in the sprints and Philipsen is capable of that.”
On the subject of pressure, Kelly highlighted Caleb Ewan as a person of interest. The Australian has struggled for major wins this year and left the Giro d’Italia empty-handed back in May. Coupled with the fact that Lotto-Soudal are struggling for the WorldTour existence and that Ewan will head to the race with a make-shift leadout train, Kelly believes that the 27-year-old will need to prove a point and turn his campaign around at the Tour.
“For Ewan, I think that he could be under a lot of pressure,” Kelly told VeloNews.
“Especially after the Giro that he had. He has to take something out of this Tour, otherwise it’s starting to look like a really disastrous season for him. He needs the best leadout possible and I’m not sure that we can actually call it that. I think the plan will be to drop him off at a certain point and then let him follow the other trains. I don’t think Lotto can do that.”
Kelly also tipped two under-the-radar sprinters for possible success with Dylan Groenewegan, making his first Tour start since 2019, and Alberto Dainese, who won his maiden grand tour stage at the Giro earlier this year.
“For me, Groenewegen is one rider who could come good,” Kelly said. “He’s been doing good races, difficult races, and that might give him a good run of form at the right time. We just need to see if he can reach that top, top level again. Dainise can come out of the pack and take a stage maybe but to be consistent everyday you have to get through the mountains and the guys like him who raced the Giro might really suffer in the second half of the Tour.”
According to Kelly, while there are number of world class sprinters on the startline, none of them should trouble van Aert for the green jersey.
Despite a nagging knee injury on the eve of the Tour de France the Belgian is the red hot favorite to win the green jersey. He can sprint, he can attack from the bunch, and he can climb with the best, as he showed during a dramatic Ventoux stage win in last year’s race.
Van Aert may not have the pure speed of some of the sprinters, Kelly told VeloNews, but his all-round consistency is second to none.
“Then you have van Aert who is going for a lot of the sprints too. When you look at the team, and the guys around him who can give him a good turn and put him into position, he’s a guy who can be dropped off in the last kilometer and he can even win against the fastest guys. Especially if the sprint is slightly uphill,” said Kelly.
“Van Aert has to be the favorite for the green jersey. We saw that he’s capable of it in 2021 when he was in the breaks and racing for the sprints. He’s not like the pure sprinters who sit back and wait, he can pick up points in the big mountain stages. He’s an all-rounder so unless he’s put at the complete services of Roglic, he’s the rider to beat. I think he’ll get a free-hand for his own race. I think that van Aert will dominate, a bit like Sagan did. I think that after two weeks the green jersey will be over for everyone else.”
On paper Mathieu van der Poel might have pushed van Aert for the green jersey but the fact that the Dutch rider already raced the Giro and that Philipsen will lead Alpecin-Fenix in the sprints effectively neutralizes one of van Aert’s potential rivals.
“For van der Poel, as we saw at the Giro, he didn’t get too involved in the bunch sprints. Instead he waited and he picked his days and went in breaks. He’s the one who just gets bored easily and then goes in the break and blows up the race. He’ll have to race more conservatively if he’s thinking of green but for any sprint that’s slightly uphill, he has a good chance. On the real pure sprint stages I can’t see him up there fighting for the win.”
And on Peter Sagan, the rider who has set the record for green jersey wins with seven, Kelly believes that the 32-year-old is unlikely to take a stage or compete properly for green due to recent health issues and a decline in his power over the last few years.
“No, no, no. I don’t think so. He will be there with fourth and fifth, but if he can win against these guys then it would be a huge surprise to me. It would be a major turnaround and I don’t think he has that sprint anymore. And for green, I think that he’ll struggle on the flatter stages, and then on the stages where he would have once picked up points in the medium mountains, I don’t think that he’ll be there,” Kelly said.