Everyone loves lists, right? And little arrows? This feature -- yet another innovation from the good folks at Podium Cafe Productions (tm) -- might only last a few rounds, as in years past the Green Jersey competition has sometimes ended early. But we'll see.
One thing we can say is that, at least for now, it's completely wide open. For the second year running, the competition is incredibly stiff... on paper. Behind door #1 is three-time winner and current jersey holder Robbie McEwen. Behind door #2 is Thor Hushovd, another past champ. Back in the woodshed is six-time winner Erik Zabel... but his illustrious teammate Alessandro Petacchi, last seen winning the Giro points comp, again, will be on hand. And so on. Of course, we said this last year, and the comp was a complete dud by week two. So who knows. Anyway...
1. Robbie McEwen ↑
Tanned, rested and ready. No world championships in his way, he's picked off an occasional stage (Suisse, Giro, Romandie) when he's felt like it, but otherwise has held back. There's no apparent reason to discount his chances of repeating... other than his history of not repeating.
2. Thor Hushovd ↓
Hm, second to a continental rider in his Nats... but then again, maybe these Maxbo Bianchi guys can flat out ride. And anyway, Thor's m/o is consistency more than stage wins. Too bad Liquigas left Maggie Bäckstedt off the roster; might have been fun to see McEwen in a Scandinavian sandwich. Would he even be able to see the line from behind that wall of flesh?
3. Daniele Bennati ↔
The Thoroughbred. He was fifth in the Tricolore race but was last seen winning the points comp at the Tour de Suisse. His lack of experience won't be an asset, but he seems to be on a good program, so don't count him out.
4. Tom Boonen ↓
Just finished watching Stijn Devolder ride away from him for the Nats win, with CN saying he suffered in the heat. Last time I looked, France had heat in July. And it used to be guys didn't ride away from Boonen. But he won the sprint for second, and had a tough spring campaign after a minor injury messed with his Tour prep. I don't hate his chances. He'll win this comp someday.
5. Alessandro Petacchi ↔
What do a couple weeks of doping investigations do to a rider? We'll find out... but I'm going to hazard a guess that if/when freed, he might show up looking loose and ready to go. His Giro exploits (the on-bike stuff) have lifted the pressure and proven his fitness. But except for 2003 the Tour has never really been his game.
6. Oscar Freire ↔
Mystery man. Oscarita could easily be a favorite here, having the chops to beat everyone on this list head-to-head (twice in last year's Tour), plus the ability to get over the mountains in reasonable shape, plus the benefit of a fabulous spring. Injuries such as his supposed nagging back problem are all that keep him from being the new Zabel, the perfect Maillot Vert rider. But until things get going, that back is a huge red flag.
7. Bernhardt Eisel ↓
Eisel has the chops to win some stages, but either the Austrian championships weren't a good course for him, or he wasn't exactly dialed in -- he finished ten minutes down on the leaders. But he looked untouchable in the US, winning two legs and the overall of the Triple Crown series in Pennsylvania. He should do his team proud, but cracking the top five is tough sledding.
8. Stuey O'Grady ↓
Stuey did an unimpressive turn around Switzerland, but then again maybe that was the program. He was fifth in the opening prologue and fourth in the first sprint before packing it in. 17th in the final ITT. He'll be hanging around the leaderboard, at least until it's time to start carrying water for Carlos. Does he ever get tired?
9. Sandy Casar ↔
Obligatory Frenchman time. Jimmy Casper should have been here, but IIRC he's hurt, so Casar gets the nod. He's been frisky lately, including in the French championships. But I'm showing my ignorance, and anybody who wishes to submit a better obligatory Frenchman is invited to do so.
10. Tomas Vaitkus ↑
Discovery's main sprinter. Again, I'm not that familiar with him or sure about what he brings, but Johan gave him a spot on the Tour team, so have at it Tomas!