Mark Cavendish sprinted as hard for his 16th place in Barcelona as he had to win in Brignoles and La Grande-Motte and get third place in Perpignan.
Had he finished two places worse off, in 18th, he’d have seen the green jersey switch to the shoulders of the stage winner Thor Hushovd.
It had been a superb start to the campaign for Cavendish, with two victories in two days combined with disastrous finishes for the likes of Tom Boonen, Daniele Bennati and defending champion Oscar Freire.
But Hushovd has been consistent and now, trailing Cavendish by a single point, it’s clear that the race for the green jersey is distilling into a fight between those two. Cavendish has 106 points to Hushovd’s 105 as the race goes into the Pyrenees.
Gerald Ciolek, Cavendish’s former team-mate, is third, but a distant 40 points behind him.
Oscar Freire’s second place in Barcelona hoists him into seventh place, but he has just 47 points. It’s still a long, long way back. Tom Boonen and Daniele Bennati are, surely, out of it completely.
DANGER IN THE PYRENEES
With three days in the mountains to come from Friday to Sunday, you’d have to think the fight for the green jersey would go onto the back burner, but Cavendish will still have to be careful.
Friday’s stage from Barcelona to Andorra has three intermediate sprints, each offering six, four and two points to the first three over the line.
But the first sprint comes after 105km, hot on the heels of a tricky third-category climb. Cavendish will hope a break (not containing Hushovd) has gone clear. The other two sprints come after the first-category Col de Serra-Seca, so it’s likely neither contender will be there to contest the points.
On Saturday the first sprint is not until after the first-category Port d’Envalira, which should mean it’s not a danger for Cavendish. Having said that, Hushovd has escaped on mountain stages before, in the Dauphiné Libéré and in the Tour.
Sunday’s stage sees the first sprint come after 41 kilometres of the stage, on the approach to the Col d’Aspin. That could be tricky if the bunch stays together.
Of course the first requirement for any rider who wants to win the green jersey is to reach Paris, so Cavendish need not panic in the Pyrenees. If he loses the jersey because Hushovd has been in position to contest an intermediate sprint when he has not, so be it.
The battle resumes properly on Tuesday, when the stage from Limoges to Issoudun takes place without race radios. The green jersey competition is not going to be straightforward, that’s for sure.
You wonder, though, how crucial that 16th place for Cavendish in Barcelona may begin to look come the final week of the Tour.
GREEN JERSEY CONTENDERS
How they compare after stage six to Barcelona
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC 106pts
2. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cérvelo 105pts
3. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Milram 66pts
4. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 54pts
7. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 47pts
9. Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel 39pts
62. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 5pts
0pts Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
LATEST TOUR NEWS
TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS
Tour de France 2009 on TV: Eurosport and ITV4 schedules
Big names missing from 2009 Tour de France
Tour de France anti-doping measures explained
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Cycling Weekly’s rider profiles