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Le Tour: Will Green Jersey Changes Do Anything?

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Answer: Ah, nope.

Doug Pensinger

So once again, Le Tour is reconfiguring the green jersey system to give the sprinters a better shot at what most of us recognize as actually being the most consistent finisher award. And in case you're wondering, no, this post is being written in 2014 and is not a re-posting of the discussion from 2011's reconfiguring of the green jersey system to give the sprinters a better shot at what most of us recognize as the most consistent finisher award. This is the reboot. Or the re-reboot.

Let's walk this back. Recall, before 2011 flat finishes gave out points to the top 25 places, with 35 to the winner, 30 to first loser, then 26, 24, etc. After 2011, only the top 15 places got points on flat stages, and the winner took 45, followed by 35, 30, 26, 22, etc.

Now? Still 15-deep, only the winner gets 50, second gets 30, then 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2. For all other stages, the 15-deep 2012-14 system (45, 35, 30, 26, etc) remains in place. This changes everything, right?

Ah, no. Well, in years when there is a close competition between an all-rounder like Peter Sagan, at whom this entire exercise is aimed, and a top sprinter, it'll give the latter a clear advantage. Last year? Not so much. Here are your final standings from the 2014 Points Competition:

1. SAGAN Peter 51 CANNONDALE 431 pts
2. KRISTOFF Alexander 23 TEAM KATUSHA 282 pts
3. COQUARD Bryan 153 TEAM EUROPCAR 271 pts
4. KITTEL Marcel 101 TEAM GIANT-SHIMANO 222 pts
5. RENSHAW Mark 77 OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 211 pts

The 2015 system would have left Sagan with 267 points. Kristoff would close to 238 points. Coquard would have been busted down to 100 points. Kittel would have been stuck on 206. Renshaw 100 as well.

That is actually a simple calculation based on finishing places. Whether any further change would be wrought by the new system depends on the answer to a few questions.

  • It is unclear from the Tour's website or other published reports whether the system has now eliminated intermediate points. The calculation I offered is based solely on finishing points, partly because it'd take a lot of work to figure out who won what as intermediates, but primarily because I don't know if they'll still have intermediates. If they do, this entire exercise is for naught...
  • Unless they put the intermediate points in consistently reachable places for the sprinters. The reason nobody can touch Sagan is because they always have to have intermediate sprints somewhere that he can reach and the Kittels and Cavendishes cannot. Mountain stages often head upward from the word go. Last year the Tour seemed to go out of its way to put the intermediate sprints after short climbs, just inviting the "problem" they're now so suddenly anxious to solve. Really, had they just changed the use of intermediates last year, it would have been a profoundly different competition.
  • Next, would Sagan have behaved differently? He was so far ahead by the second week that the President of Fastvakia began openly professing his boredom with the whole thing, or at least I thought I heard him say that. Maybe I was hearing myself. Probably was. Anyway, if the rules change, you can count on his behavior to change too. He's not a big stage threat, as evidenced by his winlessness last year, so that plus the rep plus the sponsor benefits plus the cash award should motivate him to win by whatever set of rules they can devise.
  • Finally, this isn't a question but consider: the scale for non-sprint stages, which remains in place for medium-mountain stages and is where Sagan really kills the competition, actually awards more points overall to the combatants. The new sprint stages will hand out a total of 205 points to the top 15. The other stages? 268 points. And it pays to finish among the top 8-10 (16-12 points), which is very gettable for Sagan, considering the presence of climbers or breakaways in the medium-mountain stages. Really, the new scale only rewards the stage winner of the flat stages; compared to the old scale, everyone else is kinda getting screwed. Who are the big stage winners? Typically the really, really fast guys, who can't climb (at a Tour level) to save their lives.
And so much for all of that. By the way, do we even support this system? Sagan was a factor in ten stages. Kittel won four, did OK in a fifth, and was otherwise not heard from again. Kristoff did well in eight stages, Coquard seven. Why should the system be looking for ways to reward this? More accurately, they're really looking for ways to reward Kittel... and again, why? Four wins, one loss, and 16 rides in the Autobus. Yay. [Golf clap.]