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It’s not that easy being green

The points classification of the 2011 Tour has turned into a fascinating battle of racing styles.

Words by Edward Pickering

Saturday July 9, 2011

Before the start of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme said that the tweaks ASO had made to the points classification were a reaction to the fact that Mark Cavendish had won so many stages, yet still not worn the green jersey on the final podium.

“If Cavendish were to end his career tomorrow, you would say: ‘Wow, he won 15 stages in three years but never won the green jersey,’” he told the Guardian’s William Fotheringham in May.

Although Cavendish would be the first to point out that if the race commissaires hadn’t stripped him of 14 points for not really deviating from his line much in front of Thor Hushovd in Besancon in 2009, he’d already have won one, there was still the feeling at the start of this Tour that the new rules – one intermediate sprint a day – might result in the first ever British green jersey winner.

Turns out Prudhomme might have been bluffing. Predictions of a straightforward Cavendish win took place before the quirky and innovative nature of the 2011 route really became apparent. What originally looked like a series of flat finishes turned out to be very complicated, with draggy climbs disrupting the routine of all but two of the opening stages, and ASO deserve credit for this, even if the parcours hasn’t been perfect. While the racing during the stages has been largely conservative, the finishes have been unpredictable and varied.

The challenging finishes and intermediate sprints mean that the green jersey competition has become a fascinating battle between not just different riders, but completely different skillsets.

The current top six in the classification looks like this:

1 Jose Joaquin Rojas 167
2 Philippe Gilbert 156
3 Mark Cavendish 150
4 Thor Hushovd 130
5 Romain Feillu 99
6 Cadel Evans 98

(Stage eight update, with number of points scored during the stage in brackets)
1 Philippe Gilbert 187 (31)
2 Jose Joaquin Rojas 172 (5)
3 Mark Cavendish 153 (3)
4 Thor Hushovd 130 (0)
5 Cadel Evans 120 (22)
6 Romain Feillu 99 (0)

(See bottom for the points scales)

The surprising thing is that there are only two pure bunch sprinters in the top six: Cavendish and Feillu. The rest are different kinds of riders.

It looks like it’s going to be between Cavendish and Feillu (the flat sprinters), Rojas and Hushovd (the consistent sprinters-who-can-climb), Gilbert (the all-rounder) and Evans (the GC contender/uphill sprinter).

The interesting thing is that each scores points in an entirely different way. In previous years, the green jersey competition has been fought out by riders with the same skills – sprinter versus sprinter, nibbling points from each other head-to-head in the bonus sprints and at the finishes. This year, Cavendish scores points where Evans scores none, and vice versa. Gilbert and Evans both do well on the uphill finishes, but Gilbert has been getting involved in the bonus sprints and flat stage finishes. Rojas is leading simply because he’s been able to contest just about every finish so far, uphill or flat. Hushovd’s doing a similar job.

At the moment, Cavendish is on the ascendancy, having won two stages out of three. But he might not score significant points again until Montpellier, the other side of two mountain ranges. Evans is going to pick up points in the mountains, while Rojas and Gilbert will have their eyes on the bonus sprints in the mountain stages.

Thus far, Cavendish’s finish line points have been gained only from three stages – fifth on stage three, and his wins in stages five and seven. Meanwhile, Rojas has scored points every day – his lowest stage finish is 12th. Gilbert has scored every day except one – when he was 20th in Redon.

It would be ironic if the biggest change in the points system for many years, a change inspired to favour a pure sprinter, ended up with the first non-sprinter to win the classification since Laurent Jalabert in 1995

The points scale
Flat stages: first place takes 45 points, then 35, 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2.
Medium mountains/undulating: first place takes 30 points, then 25, 22, 19, 17, 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.
High mountains: first place takes 20, then 17, 15, 13, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.
Time trials and intermediate sprints: first place takes 20, then 17, 15, 13, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

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