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Blazin’ Saddles: 2017 Tour de France green jersey guide

Blazin’ Saddles: 2017 Tour de France green jersey guide

01/07/2017 at 19:42Updated 02/07/2017 at 00:10

In an edition that favours the pure sprinters, can anyone stop Peter Sagan winning the Tour de France’s green jersey for a sixth consecutive year? Our cycling expert Felix Lowe takes a close look at the points classification and weighs up who will be the biggest challenger to the world champion’s crown.

Since bursting onto the Tour scene in 2012, Slovakian sensation Sagan may not have always won stages, but his consistency in the sprints has seen him wear the green jersey on 86 out of a possible 100 days (given that no rider wears green on the opening day of a Tour).

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It’s a staggering statistic – and one which makes you think twice about backing someone else for the points classification in 2017.

Each year, it seems, ASO has tried to tweak the rules of the points classification to make it harder for Sagan to win; but each year, the green machine has got increasingly dominant. Indeed, the 2016 Tour – during which Sagan shook off his bridesmaid moniker by winning a hat-trick of stages – the then Tinkoff rider amassed a record 470 points (after 421, 409, 431 and 432, his biggest tally to date).

But could that run come to an end this year? Could we be seeing more of Sagan’s rainbow stripes than his Incredible Hulk cloak of invincibility?

For the 2017 Tour route is one which favours the flat-track bullies – the pure sprinters who, on their day, have more raw speed in their legs than a rider like Sagan, who often relies on tactics and uphill ramps to dispose of his rivals.

With seven stages that could well come down to a bunch sprint, the door has been opened to the likes of Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare.

So, without any further ado, let’s run through the main contenders for this year’s green jersey…

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Savoir faire counts, and the 27-year-old remains the favourite because of those successive five wins. And simply because he’s Peter Sagan. While there are only two punchy uphill finishes – stage 3 to Longwy and stage 14 to Rodez – there are two stages where early hills could trouble many of the wearier fast men late in the race: stage 16 to Romans-sur-Isere and stage 19 to Salon-de-Provence.

Sure, there are seven almost guaranteed bunch finishes: stage 2 to Liege, stage 4 to Vittel, stage 6 to Troyes, stage 7 to Nuits-Saint-Georges, stage 10 to Bergerac, stage 11 to Eymet and stage 21 to Paris. But Sagan has won bunch sprints before – and will do so again, especially with the likes of Cavendish, Greipel and Alexander Kristoff not exactly firing on all cylinders.

A whimsical article in Velonews suggested that Sagan may win as many as 11 stages in this year’s Tour: a preposterous suggestion, but one made only because the guy is so damned talented. While he won’t be breaking the Tour’s record for stage wins in a single edition – held by Charles Pelissier, Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens, all tied on eight – he will benefit from the kind of consistency that sees him practically always finish in the top three.

On paper, Sagan will find it tougher this year, but it would take a fool to bet against him.

Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)

The powerful German was Sagan’s closest rival last year but still trailed the Slovakian by a whopping 242 points – more than the individual totals of any of the other sprinters. It’s been a solid season for Kittel with eight wins to date – but he’s hardly put himself up against top-tier competition. Given the route, the 29-year-old will be looking for a similar kind of return that came in his first two Tours, when Kittel won four stages and snared a yellow jersey on both occasions.

With a lead-out train boasting the likes of Vermote, Trentin, Stybar, Sabatini and Bauer, Kittel won’t have any excuses not to deliver. He represents the biggest threat to a sixth green jersey for Sagan.

Germany's Marcel Kittel of Team Quick-Step Floors celebrates

Germany's Marcel Kittel of Team Quick-Step Floors celebrates Eurosport

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

Four wins last year thrust the Manxman back into the limelight after a paltry return of one stage win in the previous two editions. Now just four sprints away from drawing level with Eddy Merckx on the all-time stage victory leaderboard, Cavendish should have rubbed his hands with glee on running through the 2017 route.

But glandular fever has kept the 32-year-old off his bike and severely hampered his season, which has yielded just the one win to date – back in Abu Dhabi in February. Dimension Data have gambled on Cavendish’s fitness in the hope that he’ll pull off a miracle. With the likes of Bernie Eisel and Mark Renshaw in support, Cavendish has a tried-and-tested train to deliver him to the line. Whether he has the form to seal the deal remains to be seen. It could be a long three weeks.

You never know what to expect with Cav. He could implode and go home early or empty handed – or he could surprise us all with a handful of wins. Either way, a second career green jersey looks out of the question.

Mark Cavendish (front) from Dimension Data cycling team celebrates as he crosses the finish line in Madinat Zayed

Mark Cavendish (front) from Dimension Data cycling team celebrates as he crosses the finish line in Madinat ZayedGetty Images

Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal)

Left it late with a victory in Paris on the final day last year to keep up his proud record of winning at least one stage on every Grand Tour he’s ridden since the 2008 Giro – a run Greipel continued with a solitary win in last May’s Giro. But could this be the year the German veteran finally hits the wall?

Greipel has struggled for speed this season and has just four wins to his name. A strong sprint train should put him in contention to win a 12th stage on the Tour, but gone are the days that the 34-year-old can dream of being crowned a jolly green giant in Paris.

Andre Greipel

Andre GreipelGetty Images

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)

Calling Kristoff a shadow of his former self is doing a disservice to shadows. The Norwegian hasn’t won a stage on the Tour since 2014 and his form this season – just a few scalps in Oman, really – doesn’t look to be stemming that run any time soon.

Even his team don’t seem convinced: having publicly criticised Kristoff for a disappointing spring classics campaign, Katusha didn’t consult the 29-year-old on the squad selection for the Tour – leaving behind reliable Danish lead-out man Michael Morkov and Kristoff’s compatriot Sven Erik Bystrom. Don’t expect the relationship to improve much over July.

Alexander Kristoff

Alexander KristoffGetty Images

Arnaud Demare (FDJ)

Between them, French sprinters Nacer Bouhanni, Bryan Coquard and Demare have exactly zero Tour stage wins to their names; while Coquard has been snubbed by his Direct Energie team, Demare looks the most likely of the remaining two sprinters to take a maiden win this summer.

Having controversially beaten Bouhanni in the national championships to regain his tricolor jersey, 25-year-old Demare is firing on all cylinders – and this year has a FDJ team entirely dedicated to his cause (Thibaut Pinot will not target GC and is instead a free spirit on Marc Madiot’s roster).

While Demare has never finished higher than third place in a Tour stage, the 2016 Milan-Sanremo champion picked up victories in both Paris-Nice and the Dauphine – snaring the green jersey at the Tour’s annual curtain raiser, too. Don’t expect green in Paris, but at least one stage win for Demare would be logical in July.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)

How many Last Chance Saloons can you drink from? The combative sprinter is fast running out of excuses at Cofidis – but at least this year he appears to be taking to the start, which helps. If Bouhanni can just avoid any Dusseldorf dust-ups then he may have a chance to add to his four wins this season.

But the omens don’t look good: when lead-out man Geoffrey Soupe pulled out of an already depleted train, Cofidis drafted in a climber in Nicolas Edet – a sure fire indication that the management does not entirely back Bouhanni. Why would they? The 26-year-old has yet to even crack the top five in a Tour stage, after all.

Even if Bouhanni finally delivers on his promise and snares a win or two, he’s not likely to be a factor in the battle for green: the fragile Frenchman has finished only one of his seven Grand Tours to date.

Nacer Bouhanni

Nacer Bouhanni Imago

Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo)

The Dutch bulldozer may have missed out on retaining his national champion’s title but he could go stratospheric in the Tour if an early win comes his way. This could be Groenewegen’s chance to do a Kittel and win, say, four stages – a prospect that isn’t so crazy considering his obvious talent.

The 24-year-old would trade in all five of his wins this season for a solitary Tour scalp – but he should be aiming higher. The green jersey is highly unlikely, but with decent support from his LottoNL-Jumbo team-mates, Groenewegen could be a tasty option for fantasy cycling teams if you’re running on a tight budget.

Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen

Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen PA Sport

And some others to consider…

With just two of the kind of uphill punchy finishes that suit his attributes, it’s hard seeing Australian Michael Matthews (Orica-Scott) getting much joy from this Tour. The same could be said about classics specialists Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) – although their consistency could put them in the frame for green recognition.

Should Cavendish falter then Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) may have proved an adequate back-up a few years ago, but the 30-year-old is past his best and no match to the likes of Sagan, Degenkolb and Matthews on the kind of finishes where he could excel. Likewise, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) offers his Belgian team something different to Kittel – but, despite his stellar season, Gilbert will only go green if he eats something dodgy.

Green jersey points classification prediction

1. Sagan, 2. Kittel, 3. Demare, 4. Greipel, 5. Cavendish

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)Getty Images

This year cycling fans across Europe will benefit from up to 25 hours of additional live Tour de France coverage on Eurosport including, for the very first time, every minute live. Live on-air coverage of the Tour de France will be supported by additional features on the Eurosport Player – the all-access on-demand digital pass that allows you to direct your own race by picking up to five additional on-course camera views.

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