The Tour de France did its best to make this week more interesting to fans than a typical year, but in some senses they were too clever by half. Take the green jersey competition. What started off as a great year for this classification has been fairly detonated by the opening stages. Mark Cavendish woke up this morning tied with Brent Bookwalter on points (yay Brent!). Oscar Freire has been captured by the coming Spain-Netherlands showdown for the title of Best Country Ever, which has brought his mind and body to a complete halt. Tyler Farrar's right arm is about as useful at the moment as dial-up internet. And Thor Hushovd has been the beneficiary of it all -- careening around the Low Countries and France without a care in the world, bounding over the road furniture and human wreckage with great ease, even getting a first-class escort to victory in stage 3 in a tense, hotly contested sprint with Andy Schleck.
How did this happen? There are a few potential explanations. First, and most logically, there is an incident from early last week: in a fit of editorial pique I informed my fellow editors that I really really really wanted to cover the green jersey classification this year. And as the founder of the site I may have threatened to take my intertubes and go home if I didn't get my way. Can't recall exactly what was said. Anyway, the response was the email equivalent of backing away slowly, and here we are. Only I had completely overlooked the terrible curse put on me by Tedvdw when I chose Robert Gesink in the first round of the Editors' League, whereby any rider I take an interest in shall soon come to no good end. So like my VDS team (speaking of human wreckage), when I assigned myself the task of covering the points comp, I simultaneously assigned that competition to an early demise.
Another potential explanation is that old guys do, in fact, rule. Maybe it's the bike-handling or a sort of pack-smart sixth sense, but the top three guys on points (Thor, Alessandro Petacchi, Robbie McEwen) average something like 56 years old, while the wunderkinds of Cav, Farrar, Ciolek, Boasson Hagen, etc. are struggling to get back into the action after the opening human-pinball show. If I were lazy I would insert the standard quip about "no country for old men" here, although I'm not lazy, and anyway it's not no country for old men. Quite the opposite, as each day's podium ceremony has included Hushovd receiving another green jersey and ritually shouting "get off my lawn!" in Norwegian:
And then there's my favorite explanation: "that's cycling." As I say this, I am nodding slowly but purposefully, and you should too, because the depth of wisdom behind this old canard can only be fully appreciated by a real Cycling fan, the kind which capitalize "Cycling," and surely you're not a, um, not real cycling fan. Nope, not you. You understand. Which means I don't have to elaborate.
So we're done here, right? What? I should put in a power poll too? Oy...
1. Thor Hushovd, Cervelo Test Team
How's He Done? Fine. Whatever. He earns his place in the peloton, even if I don't remember the original God of Thunder whining so much.
Left To Do: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he can't just finish fifth (or worse) in the sprints and win the green jersey. Now, Hushovd is still capable of an actual sprint win (not the easy one he got on Tuesday), but it's not all that likely. And if Cavendish is back, and Petacchi is back, and Ciolek and Boasson Hagen are flying, then Hhushovd's daily point opportunities could shrink to the point where he is in fact vulnerable. The question is, to whose challenge?
2. Mark Cavendish, HTC-Columbia
How's He Done? To hell and back. Cav entered stage 4 with a single, measly, cruel point next to his name, and looked utterly dead when he crapped out of his sprint on that day. But apparently it was a mechanical and the real Cav emerged in time for this poll to take stock of what's in his legs. His leadout train is somewhat dubious as HTC have been swamped two days in a row, but there's every reason to believe that he and Renshaw can get it done together, with no more help... as long as no other team asserts any real control in the last 3km.
Left To Do: Quite a lot. Today he scored 13 more points than Hushovd. Should he do that four more times, with no other scoring, they're dead even. But Cavendish needs to go on a big-time winning streak, as there are absolutely no more than five sprint stages remaining. We haven't had a breakaway succeed, which means that the pressure will keep increasing on HTC-Columbia to preserve those sprint opportunities as the pack grow collectively tired of chasing day after day. They eventually will let a group stay away, they always do.
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Team Sky
How's He Done? Had he not missed the boat on the cobbles, he'd be in tremendous shape. With Farrar injured, Boasson Hagen is arguably the third or fourth fastest sprinter going, and showed his versatility by scoring a couple points in the prologue. In the first week of his first Tour, he's settling in nicely.
Left To Do: It'll be really interesting to see what happens in the mid-mountain stages, whether Boasson Hagen can try something, or at least stay with Hushovd during the inevitable attack. And what would be better for ratings than a Norwegian-on-Norwegian points brawl? My hunch is, not this year. Hushovd's climbing efforts, while narrowly targeted, are a proven commodity, while Boasson Hagen might be pretty gassed on those harder days. And there won't be enough sprint day points to bridge the gap.
4. Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre
How's He Done? Oh, just bagged two stage wins and proved to the world that he's back and as good as ever at age 36. For the best summation of Petacchi's status, see Irish Peloton's excellent post.
Left To Do: If Hushovd doesn't go on a mid-mountain points rampage and Petacchi makes it over the mountains intact, Ale-Jet is probably the biggest threat to Hushovd, trailing by a mere 14 points. Or about three bunch sprints' worth... if things go well, which they didn't today. Still, Petacchi's campaign is more plausible and easier to predict... which is why Petacchi's presence virtually guarantees that Hushovd will make a move in the mid-mountains again. He has to.
5. Gerald Ciolek, Milram
How's He Done? I was in the woods this past weekend, so don't ask me why Ciolek finished 188th in Brussels. The dog incident? Regardless, that missed chance is all that stands between him and a seriously strong start to his Tour. He was second-fastest today -- behind Cavendish, so that's saying something. Even more impressive might be that 22nd in Arenberg, where he led home the Armstrong group. The boy can get over a lot of terrain and still launch a sprint.
Left To Do: Same dilemma as everyone else -- where do the points come from? He can make up some ground in the bunch gallops, but Ciolek's ability to get to the front is spotty, and the points comp punishes inconsistency with extreme prejudice. So for Ciolek to move up, he has to have no bad days, keep winding up that sprint, and go hunting for additional points outside the bunch sprints. Tall order. Frankly, if I were the God of Cycling, Erik Zabel would be tutoring Ciolek instead of Cavendish, and the results would be something to see.
6. Robbie McEwen, Team Katusha
How's He Done? Great, two 4ths and a 7th. The usual McEwen, doesn't miss a trick.
Left To Do: Win a stage? I'm not seeing any route into green for the plucky Aussie. He barely outsprints Hushovd in the bunches and he's dead to rights everywhere else. Great guy, cyclist, etc., but this is a ride for a good payday, not green glory.
7. JJ Rojas Gil, Caisse d'Epargne
How's He Done? Two 7ths and a 4th. Like McEwen, he may be better than Hushovd in the sprints, but not by enough for me to take his chances of winning seriously.
Left To Do: He'll almost certainly wind up in the top 5, he's very consistent.
8. Sebastian Turgot, Bbox Bouygues
How's He Done? Not badly. Sort of a poor man's Ciolek, only maybe slightly more consistent? He too made the Armstrong group in Arenberg and has been lurking in the other sprints.
Left To Do: Like some others, 'Bassy doesn't do anything so much better than Hushovd that would enable you to see him winning. So it's a respectable finish and a good payday for him. A stage win would be the best outcome.
9. Oscar Freire, Rabobank
How's He Done? Terribly -- he completely missed out on points today and didn't seem to be in full sprint mode. More painful saddle sores? I can't find confirmation but he's telling people he's just there for a stage win.
Left To Do: Win a stage. Freire is one of the easier guys to like in a lot of ways, a solid all-round cyclist with seemingly a very amiable personality. If he were level with Thor or anywhere close, I'd be first to talk up his chances. But 86 points is simply a long, long way back.
10. Daniel Oss, Liquigas
How's He Done? Fabulously. I mention him here primarily because everyone made fun of me for singling him out in the preview poll. Here are just a sampling of your remarks:
Last thing: Oss? -Frinking
He is just keeping Peter Sagan's place warm. - Flying Dog
Ursula deleted his comments but they were along the lines of how I'm unfit to run a cycling site, or even own a bike, as a result of naming Oss one of the top eight contenders for the points classification. Anyway, the young Italian is proving me right and all of you wrong.
Left To Do: Plenty. But he's been able to make it to the sprints so far, which is more than some people can say.
Not listed: Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Transitions. He just isn't a competitor here anymore. Next year for sure, and I believe he'll have one of these jerseys in his closet eventually. He might even get his stage win before (or in) Paris. But no sense believing in this until he can effectively grab the bars.
Photos by Spencer Platt, Getty Images Sport