Stephen Roche wrote in an article yesterday that he thought it would be an interesting exercise to calculate who would be leading the green jersey competition if the intermediate sprints were ignored and the points were assigned on the stage finishes alone.
Well, Roche's wish is my command.
Currently the green jersey standings are as follows:
Current actual green jersey standings
If we discount all the points scored in the intermediate sprints and use last year's points system instead of this year's, let's see how that table changes. The big difference between the two systems, in terms of the points at the end of the stage, is that the points this year are more heavily weighted toward the winner. Whereas last year's system distributed the points more evenly.
The green jersey classification for just stage finishes, if last year's scoring was used for this year's results.
Clearly, if last year's rules were still in place, with less emphasis placed on the stage winner, Cavendish would be under a lot more pressure for the green jersey than he actually is. So if Cavendish is still winning more stages than everyone else, he must be making the difference in the intermediate sprints.
In an interview recently, Christian Prud'homme actually admitted that they had Cavendish in mind when designing the new system and that "if Cavendish ends his career without ever winning it...we need to do something".
Is winning 19 stages in the Tour de France not prize enough? As Roche also said in his recent article, "the points system has always meant the rider [that] finishes in the best place everyday...an indication of the best all rounder".
The green jersey has never been a 'who wins the most stages competition'. Sean Kelly managed to win it four times while only winning one stage. If Cavendish wanted to win the green jersey, he should have focused on winning it, not just on winning stages. He shouldn't have needed the organisers to change the rules to accomodate him. Although it must be said that Cavendish didn't ask Prud'homme to do this for him.
So has the huge amount of points available at the intermediate sprints helped Cavendish to win the green jersey?
Last year, Alessandro Petacchi won the green jersey, and of his points total at the end of the Tour, just 2.47% were scored in intermediate sprints (a meagre six points). Over the last ten years, the highest percentage of total points of the eventual green jersey winner which were scored in intermediate sprints was by Robbie McEwen in 2002 who racked up 10.71% of his tally in this manner (30 points).
To put that into perspective, this year Cavendish has scored 237 points at the stage finish and 92 in the intermediates. That's a whopping 27.96% of his points which have been scored in the intermediate sprints.
To throw even more numbers at you, the ratio of total points available to intermediate points available this year isn't actually that much higher than in previous years. It is higher, but not by much, due to a proportionate increase in the stage finish points.
The highest percentage of total points available which were on offer in the intermediate sprints in the last ten years was 34.57% in 2009. In comparison, this year despite the 20 points on offer for the winner, the percentage of total points which are available at the intermediate sprints is quite similar at 38.18%.
Cavendish is winning the most stages as usual, but it is his performances in the intermediate sprints which are swinging things in his favour.
Cavendish lost the green jersey last year by 11 points and he lost it the year before by 10.
With no rider since 2002 scoring more than 10% of their green jersey points in the intermediate sprints it seems that if Cavendish had bothered competing for the six points which used to be on offer each time over the last few years, he would probably be aiming for his third green jersey in a row right now.
Prud'homme may have changed the rules, but it's Cavendish's attitude, prompted by the rule changes, which has paved the way to finally winning this competition, not the the rule changes themselves.