Whether or not the Tour de France commissaires made the right call in kicking Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) out of the race following the dramatic crash at the end of stage four, his absence means that, for the first time in years, the green jersey competition looks wide open.
The Slovak had dominated the points classification to the point that the result has begun to feel like a foregone conclusion, having won it five years in a row, usually with a huge margin of over 100 points.
This year, however, the jersey will pass on to someone else. With 2011 green jersey winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) also out of the race with a fractured shoulder blade – it will be a rider who has never won it before.
Here are some of the main candidates, with their current tally of points after stage four.
Arnaud Démare (FDJ) 124 points
Démare currently leads the competition (and would still have been had Sagan not been punished) following an excellent start in which he has placed second, sixth and first on the first three road stages respectively. The lead he holds is a handy one, too, having opened up a gap of 43 points already over the next best-placed rider, Marcel Kittel.
The Frenchman possesses the necessary versatility to obtain points in trickier terrain, as proven by his placing on stage three’s uphill finish, as well as the fact he is a past winner of Milan-San Remo.
His problem, however, could be a lack of experience. He’s only completed two Grand Tours in his career (the 2014 and 2015 Tours de France) and on neither occasion did he commit to contending the points classification – an exhausting three week battle for the jersey may prove too much for him.
Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) 81 points
If the speed he produced to win stage two is anything to go by, Kittel ought to be capable of accumulating enough points in the flat bunch sprint stages to win the green jersey. He will need to be consistent though, which – as demonstrated by the finish in Vittel, where he lost contact with the leaders to finish down in 13th – has not always been his strong point.
He did, however, manage to finish second in the competition behind Sagan last year despite only winning one stage, suggesting he does have what it takes. The higher-than-usual number of straightforward, flat sprint stages will also play into his favour.
Michael Matthews (Trek-Segafredo) 66 points
Compared with the other green jersey contenders, Matthews is the rider most capable of replicating the kind of moves Sagan makes to gain points in lumpier terrain. As a skilled climber, the Australian could be able to get into breaks on hilly and middle-mountain stages, and sweep up crucial points in intermediate sprints, while his heavier rivals will be being dropped out of the back peloton.
His adaptability has seen him perform well in points classifications in the past, including wins in the past two editions of Paris-Nice, and third at the Tour de France last year. He will, however, need to do better than the ninth and seventh placings he’s managed in the flat bunch sprints so far (where most points are handed out)
André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) 63 points
He hasn’t quite got going yet, but if Greipel can start upgrading his podium finishes (third on stage two and third again on stage four) into sprint wins, he’ll quickly close the gap and become a serious contender for the green jersey.
The German has been one of the main riders to miss out as a result of Sagan’s indomitable hold on the classification, having finished second behind him in 2012 and 2015, and third in 2013. The green jersey is one of the major holes in the 34-year-old’s long, illustrious career – he likely never get a better chance to win than this year.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) 43 points
All has not been well for Kristoff, for whom an apparent fallout with his team has coincided with a dip in form on the road. There were more promising signs in Vittel where he finished second (upgraded from third following Sagan’s disqualification), although he remains somewhat adrift in the points classification, lying fifth place at 80 points behind Démare.
At his best (as was the case at the 2014 Tour, where he finished second in the points classification), the Norwegian is one of the most consistent sprinters in the peloton, and capable of remaining in contention for points in the more complicated terrain. He’ll need to improve considerably to reach that level again, however.