Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Green jersey predictions: Sagan successfully defends his title

Fun fact: The winner of the yellow jersey at the Tour de France earns $600,000, give or take, depending on the exchange rate. The winner of the green jersey earns $33,000. No, I didn't forget a zero.

Peter Sagan
But, based on the number of stages that come down to a sprint and the amount of air time that Phil and Paul devote to discussing it, the green jersey is worth nearly as much to sponsors as the maillot jaune. If the jersey is a worthy topic for Phil and Paul, it's worthy of our attention as well.

Besides, we love these guys. They ride so close and fast that they have to engage in "serious argy-bargy," bumping shoulders and butting heads, to maintain their position or bully their way past others. Wipeouts and crashes are inevitable. That's hockey, baby, as it would be played on two wheels at 50 mph.

Because of the anomalies -- hills -- of the early stages, expect Peter Sagan to wear the jersey for nearly three weeks. The lumpy terrain of Corsica favors a rider with the ability to climb. Though the opening stage is tailor-made for a bunch sprint, the next two stages will favor the youngster from Slovakia with a penchant for exuberant celebrations. Last year, he mimicked Forrest Gump and The Incredible Hulk, even did a wheelie over the line when he soloed to victory. He took it a little too far this year, when he grabbed the derriere of a podium girl after finishing second at the Tour of Flanders.

But Sagan is cut from a mold similar to the more somber Oscar Friere, Eric Zabel or Thor Hushhovd, sprinters who could drag themselves up a series of climbs much better than their rivals. Stages 2 and 3 were set up to challenge the sprinters, and a fair number -- if not all -- of them will be absent from the final push to the finishing line. If that scenario plays out, Sagan should build a sizable lead over his rivals by the time the peloton hits the mainland for sprint stages across the south of France. Many can beat him in a flat-out sprint, but they'll be playing catch-up.

Sagan also showed a willingness last year that many of his competitors lacked to contest intermediate sprints -- spots along the course in which the first 10 riders earn points. So, he can either pad his lead or chip away at the others if the race is close.

Mark Cavendish has benefitted from a move
 to Omega-Quick Step
In any case, Sagan is unlikely to master Mark Cavendish in a bunch sprint. Winner of 23 Tour stages, Cavs left Team Sky, where he had little support, and signed up with Omega Pharma Quick Step, which has dedicated a series of riders known as a leadout train to set him up for victory. This formula worked to near-perfection when Cavendish rode for the various incarnations of High Road and its mix-and-match sponsors: Columbia, HTC, T-Mobile.

Cavs will be a heavy favorite for the opening stage. If the next few stages don't turn into an early battle of GC favourites and if the bunch stays together, he can build a lead. The sizable climbs work against that, though. Cavs picked his spots last year in contesting intermediate sprints, a strategy he can't afford this year if he's behind and really wants to wear green when he crosses the line first in Paris.

Others expected to mix it up:

Mattie Goss
Andre Greipel: Perhaps the only guy to bet on other than Cavs in a field sprint. Nicknamed the Gorilla, he will bring leadout help with teammates from Lotto Belisol.

Matt Goss: Orica Green Edge is built around him, but he has yet to deliver at the Tour. A daily bridesmaid, Goss will mix it up in the intermediate sprints and could chip away if one of his rivals holds a slim margin over him.

Marcel Kittel

John Degenkolb
Marcel Kittel:/John Degenkolb: Lucky for me, Kittel got sick early enough in last year's Tour that I resisted the hype and left him off my fantasy team. He has beaten the rest of the sprinters in one-day races but hasn't been healthy or fit enough to manage a win in a Grand Tour. Perhaps Kittel's biggest obstacle is his own teammate, Degenkolb, who won five stages  at last year's Vuelta. The Argos-Shimano bus should be a really fun place before and after stages, as they try to figure out whose DAY it is, then discuss loudly how it all went horribly wrong.

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