Briton Mark Cavendish celebrates winning another Giro d’Italia stage.
WHILE the focus of the Tour is always the General Classification and the battle for the coveted yellow jersey, the subplot provided by the speed merchants never ceases to capture the attention of fans.
Tour organisers have made life increasingly tougher for the sprinters in the past few years, reducing the number of flat stages in the opening week and changing the scoring system in 2011.
Now, more points are on offer for flat stage wins and one “super” intermediate sprint replaces a gaggle of sprints worth less points, so whilst still rewarding the speedsters, consistency is still key.
JOIN US FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THE TOUR DE FRANCE, STARTING THIS WEEKEND
With the new format, the ultimate speed machine Mark Cavendish won five stages to take the green jersey in 2011 and seemed destined to go on a tear that would take him past Erik Zabel’s six consecutive sprint classification wins from 1996 to 2001.
But along came Slovakian Peter Sagan who can sprint on the flat, but also when the road rises upwards, and now there’s talk that he is the man to match Zabel’s record.
Last year Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan each won three stages, but Sagan – on debut – took the green jersey.
This year’s parcours features seven flat and five undulating stages and six of those seem to favour Cavendish.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)
The man from the Isle of Man is the fastest man on two wheels, at least two wheels powered by a human not an engine.
With 23 career Tour de France stage wins, the 28-year-old sits at number four on the all-time list and with at least five realistic victory chances in 2013, can scoot to second, equal with the French legend Bernard Hinault and trailing only the super-legend Eddy Merckx.
Last year Cavendish rode with no team support as the whole set-up was centred on eventual winner Bradley Wiggins. So Cavendish simply created his own lead out train by hitching a ride on any other team wagon, launching in the last few hundred metres.
The tactic delivered three stage wins, but the lack of teammates allowed rivals Peter Sagan and André Greipel to also claim three victories and Sagan won the overall sprinters classification.
At the end of 2012, Cavendish jumped ship to Omega Pharma-Quickstep and won five stages of the Giro d’Italia to complete a full set of Grand Tour sprint king crowns.To assist he has world time trial champion Tony Martin to drive the train in the final kilometres.
The opening day gives him the chance to wear the yellow jersey, something he’s never done. The flat opening 213km between Porto-Vecchino and Bastia in Corsica has Cav’s name all over it.
Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale)
The sometimes controversial Slovakian Peter Sagan not only won three stages on his debut Tour last year, but also upset Mark Cavendish to take the overall sprinters crown.
Based on last year’s performance and his overall capabilities on the flat, on the lumpy road stages, and even early in the big mountain passes, he is the favourite to retain his crown, particularly if he collects points behind Cavendish in the flat sprints but leaves him with nothing on the more taxing days.
With his Cannondale team in full support he’s had and impressive season already winning 12 races and finishing runner up at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, where he pinched the backside of a podium girl creating a global storm, for which he was forced to apologise.
Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol)
An imposing figure on the bike, ‘The Gorilla’ won three stages last year in finishing runner-up to Sagan.
He’s well known in Australia courtesy of a bagful of stage wins (a record 14) on the way to two overall wins at the Tour Down Under in the days when the course was pancake flat.
Lotto share the leadership, but Greipel’s train, which includes Aussie workhorse Adam Hansen and Melbourne-based New Zealander Greg Henderson, provides excellent support.
Teammate and GC hopeful Jurgen Van den Broeck finished fourth overall last year, as he did in 2010 and has his eyes on a podium finish in Paris, which may not help Greipel’s chase for green.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge)
In GreenEDGE’s debut year there was huge pressure on Goss to bag a Tour de France stage win.
And with five top three stage finishes Goss was on track to fight for the overall sprint title until he was docked 30 points for an illegal sprint against Peter Sagan on Stage 12, effectively ending any hopes.
Last year, GreenEDGE put virtually every egg in Goss’s basket, rarely seeking a spot in a breakaway as they rode in support of the Tasmanian.
This year will be different with Tour debutants Simon Clarke and Cameron Meyer, Swiss rider Michael Albasini and former stage winner Simon Gerrans all expected to be given a longer leash in 2013.
Goss doesn’t mind it tough, as evidenced by his Milan San-Remo win in 2011 so he can climb and sprint at the end of a tough day – but so can Sagan. Those stages seem his best chance of a win this year.
Australia has a good record in the classification, with Robbie McEwen (12 stage wins and three green jerseys), Baden Cooke (one stage win when shading Robbie McEwen for the green jersey in 2003) both winning the battle for green.
And many forget that Stuart O’Grady finished as runner-up for the sprint classification on four occasions. O’Grady will captain the team on the road and both McEwen and Cooke are also in Goss’s camp which will help.
Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano)
From here the rest, including Kittel, his teammate John Degenkolb plus young Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Olympic road race bronze medallist Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) are all outsiders.
Keen cycling fans will remember Kittel claiming bronze in the under-23 time trial at the world championships in Geelong and a stage win in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour of 2011.
His Sun Tour stage victory came after an impressive stage win at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, so the 25-year-old German is no stranger to Grand Tour stage wins.
Kittel will target the flat stages and after recently beating both Cavendish and Greipel in stage three of the Ster ZLM Toer, who’s to say it can’t be done again.
Degenkolb, who finished second at the under-23 road race in Geelong behind Australian Michael Matthews, will look for the hillier stages for a win.
- Tour de France – The Battle For Green (cyclingmole.com)
- Talking Tactics: How to win the green jersey at the Tour (velovoices.com)
- Mark Cavendish sets sights on yellow Jersey (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- Cavendish targets yellow jersey in Tour opener (itv.com)
- Tour de France: Britain Expects (paulsmith.co.uk)
- Riding high with Mark Cavendish Oakley Radarlock sunglasses (debenhams.com)