Jul 5th, 09. Green. Mark Cavendish is the easy bet for the most sprint stage wins in this Tour de France, does that make him the easy favourite for the Green Jersey?
Winning the most number of stages does not necessarily put a rider in the green jersey in Paris, consistency does.
In 2008 Mark Cavendish won four stages, yet never wore the Green Jersey, Kim Kirchen wore the Green Jersey for six stages yet never won a stage and Oscar Friere won the overall Green Jersey in Paris with his one stage win.
Expect to see a Cavendish victory salute a few more times (c)TDWSport.com
The reason all these scenarios can happen in one Tour is the complex scaling points system behind the Green Jersey or Points Classification.
The points system behind the Green Jersey
Points are awarded based on;
- Placing well in a stage - all stages whether on the flat or in the mountains (but flat stages earn more points)
- Placing in the top 3 of the interim sprints - all non time trial stages have at least two interim sprints, some are up mountains, others are after difficult mountain ascents.
With points on offer on the hills and on the flat the traditional big sprinter is at a disadvantage, whereas an all round sprinter who can climb is more likely to pick up valuable points.
One bad day does more to lose the Green Jersey than a good day does to win it.
Add to this is the rule that a winner must make it all the way to Paris to win the coveted Green jersey and the complexity of winning becomes clearer. It is not all about winning stages, although that helps of course.
Consistency is the key
Consistency is the key to winning the Green Jersey. Consistency in the sprints, and ability to continue to earn those 6, 4 and 2 interim points for the first riders in the interim sprints.
As an example, a rider who never wins but places 4th, then 3rd and 3rd in the first three sprints accumulates more points than a rider who wins two of those stages and then has a bad day and places outside the top twenty. (35+35+0 is less than 26+26+24). One bad day does more to lose the Green Jersey than a good day does to win it.
It helps to be a sprinter who can climb well
The problem for Cavendish is that every stage has interim sprints, even the mountain stages, and Cavendish doesn't like climbs. There are interim points half way up mountain climbs, or flat sprints after a massive climb. A rider that can stay with the front of the peloton during the hill stages and keep in contention in the flat stages is the likely winner. This is how Oscar Freire won in 2008.
The dreaded cut-off times also keep the sprinters on their toes. If a rider doesn't make it to the end of the stage within a certain percentage time of the winner they are disqualified from continuing. Julian Dean was just one second inside the cutoff time in a mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia one year.
Who are the Green Jerseys contenders for 2009?
Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia HTC) His goal must be to win the Green Jersey. He pulled out of last year's Tour mid way through to concentrate on his (in the end fruitless) Olympic campaign. He has proven himself as the fastest man in the peloton in the sprints this year with 13 individual wins. He has fantastic support from a strong team but can he get through the mountains to not only finish in Paris but to earn enough valuable interim points along the way to finish in Green?
Tyler Farrar (Garmin Slipsteam) Farrar is one of the few who has beaten Cavendish this year, and with Julian Dean's help is looking to do it again. This is Farrar's 1st Tour de France and his inexperience is likely to be a deciding factor. Don't be surprised if Farrar doesn't make it all the way to Paris and instead passes the title of team sprinter to Julian Dean in the latter stages.
Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) A strong consistent and experienced sprinter with a good leadout team to challenge Columbia this year. He'll be planning to be there challenging to the end.
Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo TestTeam) There to help Hushovd, but is often in the first few over the line himself. When consistency counts for everything, Haussler can't be ruled out for Green.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) His 2008 Tour de France Green Jersey win proved to him and others that he's real threat to Cavendish's goal for Green. Freire climbs well and knows how to make the most of those interim sprint points.
Tom Boonen (Quickstep) Boonen hasn't had an ideal off the bike start to the Tour with legal fights to even get him in the start list and a stomach bug in the final pre-tour days. Whether he can put all that to one side and get to business is questionable. His recent win in the Belgian National Championships shows that when he's on the bike he is in top shape.
The first indication of who is a challenger for Green rather than just for stage wins is likely to come on Stage 6. Stage 6 from Girona to Barcelona is a flat stage by classification but has a 6km climb 20km before the finish. A perfect time for a sprinter with climbing ability to make his early mark.
There are other riders who could slip past these sprinters for a one off stage win and there are General Classification riders who with consistent top placings could also challenge for Green.
The battle for Green is not as simple as being the fastest man in the peloton - Cavendish be warned.
Tour de France demystified series