Having already looked at the contenders for the general classification at Tour de France 2015, our cycle blogger now turns his attention to the sprinters.
One of the joys of road cycling is that there is always something to race for. Sprinters will never win the GC in a three-week Grand Tour – they are simply not good enough in the mountains – but there is still something to fight for: the maillot vert in the points classification.
In the Tour de France, points are awarded to the first 15 riders in each stage, and are also on offer at intermediate sprints. But, unlike other Grand Tours, the points are weighted in favour of flat stages, where a victory will earn you 45 points as opposed to just 20 points for a mountain-top finish.
The event has been dominated in recent years by Slovak, Peter Sagan, who has been victorious on the previous 3 occasions. Despite moving to Tinkoff-Saxo, which will also be supporting Contador’s GC bid, he should not suffer from the split objectives of the team as he rarely relies on a sprint lead-out.
Rather, Sagan’s strength is in his versatility; he is not simply a sprinter, but able to tackle to hills as well. In the style of Thor Hushovd, he wins intermediate sprints hidden behind hors catégorie climbs, and claims points in hilly stages that leave other sprinters puffed.
Sagan’s recent GC victory at the Tour of California, which put to bed his winless start to the season, included seven top-3 finishes, a victory in the individual time trial, and an astonishing climb up Mount Baldy, which averages 8.7%.
Also competing in California was Etixx-QuickStep rider, Mark Cavendish. The Manxman took four stage victories and the sprint classification to add to his points jersey from the Tour of Turkey in May. With 25 individual stage victories at the Tour, third on the all-time list, Cavendish will be looking to capitalise on his good form and challenge for his second green jersey.
The story of the 2013 Tour de France, at least as far as the sprinters were concerned, was the handing of the baton from Mark Cavendish to Marcel Kittel. The Giant-Alpecin rider beat Cavendish to four stage wins, including a victory in Paris that he repeated last year.
But Kittel has been injured for much of this season, and the hilly course may be more suited to his teammate and compatriot, John Degenkolb, who took the biggest wins of his career at Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix earlier this year.
The Germans boast a strong group of sprinters, and also vying for the green jersey will be current German national champion, Andre Greipel, of the Lotto-Soudal team. Despite a dedicated team, Greipel will struggle on the numerous hilly stages along with the other pure sprinters.
Greipel was outshone in the recent Giro d’Italia by more resilient riders, such as Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEDGE, and Sacha Modolo of Lampre-Merida, both of whom took two stage victories, the former holding the maglia rosa.
Katusha’s hopes rest with Alexander Kristoff, fresh from his win at the Tour of Flanders, and Cofidis will be trying to help Nacer Bouhanni repeat the form that saw him take 3 stages and the points classification in the last year’s Giro.