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The Battle for Green: A preview of the Tour points competition

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How to win a points race when you’re really trying

In which your narrator reads the small print, so you don’t have to

For those of you who have never bothered to learn (me, until two years ago) or who forget every year (me, still) a quick recap of the scoring system.

  • Points are for places 1 - 15 on each of the different scales.
  • No points available in the team time trial (thank goodness).
  • There’s one intermediate sprint per stage – excluding the two time trials and, I think, the Alpe d’Huez stage (although that seems odd). An intermediate sprint is worth 20 points to the winner, 17 and 15 for the podium, and 1 point for finishing 15th.
  • The individual time trial has the same points as the intermediate.
  • Road stages are classified as “flat,” “hilly” or “mountainous.” Points are awarded accordingly, with first place worth 50 on a flat stage, 40 on a hilly stage, or 30 on a mountainous stage.
  • The flat stages are: 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 13, 18 and 21 (8 stages).
  • The hilly stages are: 5, 6, 9, 14 and 15 (5 stages).
  • On flat stages, the points available for each place falls away much quicker, so finishing 8th or lower is worth more points on a hilly stage than a flat stage.

What does all that mean? Well, it means the system rewards consistency. If you were to finish 6th in every flat and hilly stage, and score no intermediate, time trial or mountain points whatsoever, you’d end up with 187 points. Most years, that’s top-five territory, and is better than three flat stage wins and a second.

What do the Bookies say?

You know the deal by now. We pick a bookmaker (Bet365, in this case) as a proxy for the hive mind opinion on possible winners, and use it as a jumping-off point to consider their chances.

In order from biggest favourite to outsiders, we have:

Peter Sagan

Quick summary: If you built a cyclist to win green jerseys, you’d build Sagan. He won from 2012 – 2016, and was disqualified when favourite in 2017.

Odds: 4/9 – a very comfortable favourite.

Support: Solid enough, and he’s not the lead-out train kind of sprinter that really cares. Old mucker Daniel Oss is a great start, and there are plenty of engines there if he gets into trouble.

Strengths: Bobby Robson once said of Newcastle United, “if we played like that every week, we wouldn’t be so inconsistent.” That applies to plenty of cyclists, but not Sagan. He’ll be there or thereabouts in every stage. If the race is close (and it isn’t likely to be) he can get over some early mountains and pick up intermediate points – stages like 15 and 17 will be there to bail him out.

Weaknesses: He’s unlikely to win a true bunch sprint. However, that’s not much of a disadvantage in this system, though it might keep him from wearing the jersey for the first week or so. Look, he’s the best cyclist in the world, and you could make a case this is the competition best suited to his unique skills. “Weaknesses” is not really the right term.

Stages where he’ll want points: There won’t be many where he doesn’t pick up points. He won Roubaix, so we can assume he’ll enjoy stage 9 more than, say, Kittel.

Fernando Gaviria

Quick summary: The new kid on the block, Gaviria can mix it with the fastest and might just cope with a few hills and cobbles, too.

Odds: 7/2 – the bookies say he’ll be winning if Sagan doesn’t.

Support: This might be the best stage-hunting team ever sent to the Tour, with even GC hopeful Bob Jungels a pretty impressive part of a lead-out machine. On days when they race for Gaviria, the wolfpack is full of alpha dogs, with Richeze a particularly valuable set of paws.

Strengths: Is he Sagan with a better sprint? He’ll need to be if he wants this win. He probably isn’t, but he’s wildly impressive. He’s only raced one grand tour, the Giro last year, in which he won four stages and romped away with the points competition. This will be much tougher but he’s proved he can ride well for twenty-one stages and get over mountains. Likely to pick up flat-stage podiums if not wins, which will give him a cushion for the tougher stages.

Weaknesses: Still not the proven climber and cobbles rider that Sagan is (although he might be) and not proven to be faster than an on-form Kittel or Groany (although he might be). Will need to demonstrate consistency and a career best across the board.

Stages where he’ll want points: Again, all of them. Flat stages with a few difficulties (like 13, for instance) are the sort where he’s at his best.

Dylan Groenewegen

Quick summary: Form flat sprinter, winner of the unofficial sprinters World Champs (d’Elysees) last year.

Odds: 7/1 – the third and final rider given a winner’s chance by the oddsmakers.

Support: Lotto-NL are chucking GC hopefuls at this race but he’s got the help he’ll need. Not a sprint-train, but there aren’t going to be too many. That’s the nature of a move to eight-man teams.

Strengths: He’s the form sprinter of the season, with a very high hit-rate early in the year and his win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne high up on that list. He’s definitely fast enough to win stages.

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Weaknesses: Hadn’t won a stage of a grand tour until the (denuded of sprinters) final stage of the last Tour. He’s either a late bloomer, or he’s just a hair below the best. That, plus his difficulties in the hillier stages, will make things tricky.

Stages where he’ll want points: He’ll be targeting the flat stages and there’s going to be a showdown in stage one between him and the next man on the list. Whoever wins it will be expecting to follow up with a few more.

Marcel Kittel

Quick summary: Big, fast and potentially dominant. Potentially.

Odds: 11/1 and in amongst the podium chances

Support: He’s been used to better than he’s received from Katusha since he made his move this year. Let’s hope a combination of increased time together and caffeine shampoo make improvements.

Strengths: On his day, the fastest sprinter in the world. He won five stages last year and his strike rate in grand tours is up there with the best.

Weaknesses: Like the girl with the curl in her hair, when he’s good, he’s very very good, and… you know the rest. Form has been elusive throughout his career and this year hasn’t been great so far. Also, not a fan of hills, to say the very least.

Stages where he’ll want points: As with Groany, he’ll be looking to start the race in yellow and with a win, and could build a serious lead if he arrives all guns blazing.

Michael Matthews

Quick summary: Defending green jersey champion, and versatile Aussie hardman.

Odds: 11/1, another with a chance of a podium

Support: As I write this, Sunweb are yet to trim their list, but it looks like he’ll get a fair bit of support, despite the GC ambitions that the team also harbour. He won’t need a five-man train to get his points.

Strengths: Probably the best climber on this list – certainly the rider most able to hang with Sagan on the toughest stages. Won’t give up.

Weaknesses: Not as fast as anyone else on this list on flat roads. Which is far from ideal in a sprints competition.

Stages where he’ll want points: The tough ones. Should enjoy the days in Brittany in particular.

Arnaud Demare

Quick summary: Got his first Grand Tour win last year and is turning into a classics-sprinter hybrid. Tough as teak.

Odds: 14/1 and the last rider the bookies see hitting a podium. All outsiders from here.

Support: Yeah, FDJ are looking to give him plenty of help. That hasn’t always led to dominance, as tactics can let this squad down. Number are there, though.

Strengths: He’s another one who’ll be consistent and can score points on tricky stages.

Weaknesses: There’s a few riders like him (with Sagan likely to eat his lunch quite frequently). He’s also struggled to complete Grand Tours for various reasons, and his next top-15 finish in a points competition will be his first.

Stages where he’ll want points: Getting boring to say that the cobbled/hills stages will be his friend, though they will. He’d love to win stage 8, as it is on roads he’ll know from growing up in Beauvais.

Mark Cavendish

Quick summary: The green jersey winner before Sagan’s dominance began, and the consensus fastest man in the world before Kittel came along. He’s still a force, but his power is waning.

Odds: 20/1

Support: Dimension Data bring a very strong sprint squad, as always, and he is unlikely to be able to blame his team for any shortcomings.

Strengths: Fast in a straight line, fearless, utterly determined and very experienced.

Weaknesses: Strong suspicion that others are now faster than him, and even at his peak he wasn’t a climber.

Stages where he’ll want points: You might say he’s written enough records already. He would not agree. Any win would be a great result, but I think he’ll want a fifth triumph in Paris.

This is me implying these two sprinted in the black and white era. Which is unkind.
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Andre Greipel

Quick summary: Mr consistency always finds a way to win a stage if he turns up in a grand tour… or he did, until last year.

Odds: 33/1

Support: Fair to middling. He’s certainly won with worse, but the Lotto team look like stage hunters to me, as ever.

Strengths: He will be in the right places and will keep trying.

Weaknesses: Father time is against him, and that’s a fearsome opponent.

Stages where he’ll want points: He loves a cobbled race and the guys looking to win in Roubaix will want to shake him off early. Otherwise, another man for the flat.

Alexander Kristoff

Quick summary: I coulda been somebody, I coulda been a contender. Instead of Sagan’s whipping boy, which is what I am.

Odds: 50/1

Support: He’ll get some help, but this looks like a Dan Martin team to me. Probably the right shout.

Strengths: It’s a pity for Kristoff that his strengths are basically “Sagan’s strengths, but not quite to the same extent.” The story of his career is that it would have been much better if it didn’t overlap so closely with the Fastvakian. That’s probably true here, too. He’ll be consistent, climbs well enough and loves a cobbled stage.

Weaknesses: I’ve seen Peter Sagan. You, sir, are no Peter Sagan.

Stages where he’ll want points: Man, this Roubaix stage is shaping to be a barn-burner, huh? Even in the green preview there’s a lot of riders targeting it.

Nacer Bouhanni

Quick summary: Are they saying BOO-hanni?

Not the most popular man in the peloton, but quick when motivated.

Odds: 50/1

Support: How can I put this? His team don’t seem to like him very much. Management included. On paper, a strong set-up, but we aren’t racing on paper.

Strengths: He’s a good sprinter, and as such he deserves his place on this list.

Weaknesses: Everything else. Quite apart from controversy and team harmony, there’s questions over his form and fitness, and he’s yet to win a Tour stage. Won’t thrive on this year’s hilly parcours, either.

Stages where he’ll want points: He’ll take them where he can get them, but let’s start with the flat stages early on before the grind gets to him.

The rest

They’re your contestants, sprint fans. The bookies go on to list a bunch of classics riders and outsider-sprinters like Colbrelli, Alaphilippe, Boasson Hagen, Valverde and Degenkolb, but the truth is that this isn’t a prize that is won by an outsider. Such is the premium on consistency that we know the guys who can produce, and who have the support around them.

Can chaos happen? Sure – but it looks like 2017, when the dominant points-garnerer of our time was DQ’d, and was then joined in the broom waggon by Kittel, with five stage wins. Demare didn’t make the finish, either, and nor did Cav. Michael Matthews won it, ahead of Andre Greipel. That’s about as chaotic as it’ll get. Your winner will be one of the guys above.

Who wins?

Sagan. Obviously.

Assuming he makes it to Paris, he’ll win this at a canter and join Zabel as the only man to have stowed six green jerseys in the wardrobe, unless you count Jack Nicklaus. I think Gaviria and Kittel are the men most likely to join him on the podium, with the latter favoured to maintain his crown as “quickest”.

Sagan Running Man