Tour de France: Can Peter Sagan be beaten for green?
Peter Sagan wearing green on the Champs-Elysee.
There are very few certainties in life, but the superb Slovakian claiming the sprinters crown in the Tour de France is just about a mortal lock. Sagan has won every green Jersey in the race since 2012, bar a controversial disqualification – when he was leading the event comfortably- in 2017.
Realistically, Sagan is the odds on favourite to take claim his record 8th Maillot Vert for a reason – he’s the best and most versatile sprinter in the sport. He enters the 3rd stage of this years tour in 3rd place in the Maillot Vert classification, primed to strike as we get deeper into the 21 day event. It’s expected that he will assert his once again dominance as we move into the mountain stages. But…..is there a chance that Sagan might actually lose? It’s unlikely but not completely out of the realm of possibility.
Sagan’s strength as a sprinter isn’t his raw finishing speed, although he’s plenty fast. Sagan has built his empire in his superior ability to ride in breakaways and over mountains like few sprinters in the history of the sport, allowing him to claim easy points at intermediate sprints – that’s usually worth an extra 150 points of the course of a full tour.
Sagan also specialises in the power sprints required on an uphill sprint finish. You can usually count on at least 3 or 4 of those over the course of the event. This year it’s just the one. That directly disadvantages Sagan more than any other sprinter in the field.
Sagan also has a logistical disadvantage that he hasn’t had in previous years. Usually, his Bora-Hansgrohe team are catered to his every need. Green is the goal. With the emergence of the German Emanuel Buchmann – he finished 4th in last years tour, just 25 seconds from a podium place – the team is now serving two masters. Sagan is still the star, but the team has sacrificed some of its leadout train in order to employ more climbers in support of a general classification tilt for Buchmann. One of those sacrifices has hit Sagan more than most, with his brother Juraj not being selected in this years Tour de France squad. The only truly world class leadout man in Sagan’s corner this year is the Italian Daniel Oss.
It’s not been spoken about much, but Sagan’s 2019 win was – whisper it – not nearly as dominant as his previous conquests have been. His total of 316 points was enough to win, of course, but it was his first sub-400 point result since before he started collecting greens for fun back in 2012.
All of this points to a Sagan that is as vulnerable as he has ever been. However, vulnerable doesn’t necessarily mean beatable.
Sagan’s main contender for the Maillot Vert from a pure ability perspective is Wout Van Aert. He is the key domestique to team leader Primoz Roglic, though the Jumbo-Visma team is blessed with quality support to Roglic: Tony Martin, Tom Doumoulin and Robert Gesink are all quality riders that can step in and support Roglic, should the team decide to set Van Aert loose to pursue the green jersey. The Belgian is the one green jersey contender that can match Sagan on the breakaways and in the mountains, potentially eliminating Sagan’s biggest tactical advantage over the years: the intermediate sprint. For all of the delicious potential of a Sagan vs Van Aert shootout for green, it’s likely that team will take precedence over the individual. If Roglic falters, though, the teams focus could shift very quickly.
Diminutive Aussie Caleb Ewan and Irishman Sam Bennett are pure speedsters that are more than likely to win a stage or three between them. If they choose to at least compete for the points available in the intermediate sprints, their both a chance to unseat Sagan. Of course, they’ll both have to finish the actual tour. Ewan in particular has to improve in this area – he’s deserted the tour in mountain stages in 4 of the past 5 years!
Elia Viviani, Sonny Colbrelli and Alexander Kristoff are all outside chances to make a run at the green jersey – Kristoff’s stage 1 victory has certainly set him up as well as he could have hoped. But sadly that’s about as deep as the green jersey contenders field is season.
It seems that Sagan’s dominance of the event over the past decade has forced most teams to switch their focus to other areas. And that may be Sagan’s ultimate trump card this year. Just as the Slovakian’s powers look to be waning, no team is truly set up to challenge the status quo. Sagan’s reputation; his aura; his broad shadow; might be the best leadout man he has this year.
It will probably be enough.