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Will Sagan Be Dancing In France?

Not impressed by his hula moves? Maybe you won’t have to worry much longer.

Sagan in Second

The Tour de France is approaching. How do I know? Because Chris Froome rode a race Peter Sagan is working on his stage celebrations, after winning a stage of the Tour de Suisse and promptly launching into a hula dance.

It was terrible. Sagan’s connection to Polynesian culture was in question beforehand, and now it’s completely broken. So if this was something he was preparing for the Tour, well, he needs something better, and time is running out.

On the plus side, Sagan has a deep and complicated relationship to the world of dance. Here he is re-enacting the finale of Grease with his now-wife Katarina.

Oh, and he also re-enacted Pulp Fiction, Gladiator, and I’m not really sure what else:

God I love the internet age. I don’t know if it tops Gino and Fausto doing duets, but it has to be up there. I think now is maybe a good time to suggest some alternate themes for his Tour de France performances though. I’m a fan of Irish dancing, but he’d have to unclip to pull that off. Maybe he could organize his Bora squad into a hakka? Or something less culturally appropriating, like a walz, which is something good Slovakian boys all learn in middle school I suspect.

One little issue maybe people aren’t thinking about much is whether he’s actually going to win the Green Jersey again, or a stage of the Tour de France, for that matter. After three stage wins and a maillot vert campaign where he more than doubled his “closest competitor” his next victory lap is being taken as a given.

Or... is it? [/sly voice]

On our PodcafSt yesterday Conor got a little miffed (ahem!) about this year’s course overall, pointing out in no uncertain terms that there were an awful lot of flat stages.

Sagan may profit from a slight uphill on stage 4, or even nab some points (if not a win) on the very definite uphill slope at the end of stage 3. He might even hang around for Stage 14, though not by himself. And he’ll eat stage 19 for a late-afternoon snack, if Greg Van Avermaet doesn’t steal it from him.

However, stages 2, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 21 are sure-fire sprint stages, if anyone forces them to be. Stage 16, if the sprinters are around after 25km, will be another bunch gallop. That’s up to seven sprint stages, if a team — say, a Belgian team with a rather Terminator-like satiability for stage victories — brings about this occurrence.

By this count, Sagan has four stages in which to press his versatility advantage over the regular sprinting blokes, and seven stages in which he has to hope no one sprinter gets too hot. He can take care of business himself and securing his record-tying sixth Green Jersey by being the hot sprinter who wins the stages, and the 50-point hauls that go with each of those win.

But simple math: those four tasty-looking stages include two rated as “hilly” and only giving out 30 points to the winner, and two with max points. That’s 160 points max. And 350 max to the seven flat stages where the Sagan we have seen in past Tours might not be the fastest guy to the line. So do we really like his chances to win?

The answer is yes until proven otherwise, but less so this year than we have in a long while. His most obvious threat is Marcel Kittel and his aerodynamic haircut. Kittel tends to win in bunches that make you say things like “he’s the fastest man in the world.” On the other hand, we really haven’t said that since 2014, and in the meantime there are rumors that Kittel is thinking of moving to Katusha. That could cut both ways at the Tour: spur him on like a guy upping his contract price, or turn his team against him. And Kittel without a lot of team support is not a pretty sight.

As foggy as that sounds, the reality is that I’m not sure who can knock the German off the fastest-man throne. Mark Cavendish isn’t anywhere at the moment, nor is Alexander Kristoff. Dylan Groenewegen, Arnaud Demare, Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb are all looking for their first Tour stage win, period, so while they are impressive talents, I’m not going to move them ahead of a guy with nine stage wins to himself. Andre Greipel says hello from his endless grand tours with a stage win streak, but Greipel’s lone stage win won’t derail a rampaging Kittel, if such a thing appears on the roads of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

But that’s not Sagan’s only problem. In the stages that benefit him the most, he might not be lacking for company. Sonny Colbrelli has dedicated his season to pursuing this same shirt, and I am pretty sure Michael Matthews has the same outlook. Diego Ulissi could get in the way on one of those uphill sprints, if he regains his form. And Van Avermaet takes victories away from Sagan like Dr. Belloq following Indiana Jones around (minus the part where GVA is melted by ghosts in the end). So the scenario where Sagan maximizes his opportunities while waiting for Kittel to falter comes with some pretty serious caveats on the front end.

And then there are the road furniture collections of northern Europe. I don’t want to interfere with Andrew’s performance in the site’s role of Alarmist-in-Chief, but it’s true that a bunch of >200km flat stages on large, sometimes over-engineered roads in the first phase of the Tour are an invitation for disaster. Who gets bit by the bad luck bug remains to be seen, but even non-catastrophic falls tend to remake a rider’s plans very quickly. Fingers crossed there.

So yeah. Lay down your money on that sweet 8/13 action* for Sagan to repeat as Points winner if you like. But don’t go spending your winnings before late July.

[* what does that number even mean?!]