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2019 Tour de France - Points Classification

2019 Tour de France - Points Classification

Peter Sagan is attempting to become the first 7 time winner of the Points Classification (Green Jersey) at the Tour de France. A remarkable achievement considering this will only be his 8th Tour start since debuting as a 22 year old in 2012. His one failure was due to being disqualified from the race following a tangle with Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish in 2017 that left Cavendish with a fractured shoulder blade.

Given his record of winning the Green Jersey in every Tour that he has finished, the consensus is that Peter Sagan only needs to make it to Paris in order to secure the Points Classification title. It is hard to dispute this argument when you consider Sagan has won the Points Classification by an average margin of 154 points across his 6 victories. The closest anyone has come to toppling him was André Greipel in 2015, with Sagan winning by 66 points. Sagan failed to win a stage that year and the big German’s 4 Stages wins were still not enough to overcome him.

Such has been Sagan’s overall superiority in the Points Classification that Tour organisers have already tweaked the points system once during Sagan’s era of dominance in order to make the competition more competitive. Since 2015 there has been an increase in reward for winning a Flat (Sprint) Stage, with the theory being that the most dominant sprinter of a given Tour should be a competitive chance of winning the Green Jersey.

Although an accomplished sprinter in his own right, Sagan does not win the Green Jersey each year due to his raw top speed, but rather due to his versatility. He manages not only to be at the pointy end of flat stages, but he can also mix it with the best puncheurs on more hilly terrain, fighting out stage finishes in places where his principle sprint rivals have been left behind. Sagan is also not afraid to get into breakaways on rolling or mountainous terrain to secure points at intermediate sprints under no competition.

So will Sagan win it again in 2019? Does the 2019 parcours offer any hope to his rivals? And who are those principle rivals? All of this will be discussed in this Points Classification preview, but first lets explain how the competition works.

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Rules

For the purpose of applying various rules (in particular relating to elimination time limits and the Points Classification), the official Tour de France rules and regulations [1] classify every stage of the Tour de France according to the following coefficients of difficulty:

  • Coefficient 1: Stages with no particular difficulty.

  • Coefficient 2: Stages with rolling terrain.

  • Coefficient 3: Stage with very rolling terrain.

  • Coefficient 4: Very difficult stages.

  • Coefficient 5: Very difficult short stages.

  • Coefficient 6: Individual time trial stage.

  • Coefficient 7: Team time trial stage.

For the purposes of the Points Classification the coefficients can be grouped and interpreted as follows:

  • Flat Sprint Stages: Coefficient 1

  • Rolling Terrain Stages: Coefficients 2 & 3

  • Mountain Stages: Coefficients 4 & 5

  • Individual Time Trial Stage: Coefficient 6

  • Team Trial Stage: Coefficient 7

The winner of the Points Classification is awarded to the rider that accumulates the most points across the 21 Stages of the Tour de France and also finishes the race. The leader of the Points Classification after each stage has the honour of wearing a Green Jersey on the following stage.

Points are awarded at an intermediate sprint and at the stage finish on all road stages.

Points are awarded for the first 15 riders across the finish line according to the point scale presented below. The winner of a Flat Sprint Stage (50 Points) is awarded proportionally more points than the winner on stages with Rolling Terrain (30 Points) and Mountain Stages (20 Points). Points are awarded based on the finishing position in Individual Time Trials (winner receives 20 points), but no points are awarded for Team Time Trials. The intermediate sprints are also worth 20 points to the winner.

The location of the intermediate sprint on a given stage can vary, sometimes it can be very early in the stage and at other times it can be very late in the stage. Often riders within breakaways will accumulate the majority of points available at the intermediate sprints, but there are often sufficient points available for the sprinters remaining in the peleton that a small sprint to the line is held.

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As can be seen by the point allocation by stage type, winning Flat (Sprint) stages are handsomely rewarded. As discussed earlier, this allocation is intentional in order to enable the dominant sprinter of a given Tour to remain competitive against more rounded sprinters (i.e. Peter Sagan) that accumulate points on both flat and more difficult terrain. Given his dominance over the competition since 2012, this point system doesn’t appear to have been effective in creating a viable rival for Sagan. However, the 2019 Tour route and in particular the positioning of the intermediate sprints may make it a little more interesting this year.

2019 PREVIEW

Using the stage classifications in the official Tour de France rules, the Figure below presents the breakdown of stage types for every Tour since 2012 (Sagan’s debut year at the Tour). The 2019 edition has potentially the most balanced parcours over that period, with 7 flat sprint stages, 6 rolling terrain stages, 6 mountain stages, 1 Individual TT and 1 Team TT. Interestingly, the closest Tour by comparison is the 2015 edition, which was the year Greipel came closest to taking the Green Jersey away from Sagan.

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The glimmer of hope for Sagan’s rivals in 2019 potentially lies in the intermediate sprints. An estimated 12 of the 19 road stages (discounting the time trials) could provide points opportunities for pure sprinters at the intermediate sprints (stages highlighted green below). This is either due to anticipated small breakaways on the flat stages or the positioning of the intermediate sprints very early (before the high mountain passes) on the more difficult stages. There are an estimated 5 stages (highlighted orange below) where the intermediate sprints would be available for sprinters (typically Sagan) that are willing to get into breakaways on hilly terrain for the sole purpose of collecting intermediate sprint points. But some of these stages could also end in a sprint finish, which may dissuade a Sagan type from getting into the breakaway. There are likely only 2 stages (highlighted red below) where the intermediate sprint is located after difficult climbs and where all the points are expected to be collected by specialist climbers within a large breakaway.

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Contenders

So who are the expected challengers for the Points Classification title?

The most obvious form reference would appear to be the Tour de Suisse that was held in mid-June, where Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe) appeared to be back to his imperious best after perhaps only moderate success by his standards in the Tour of California and throughout the Spring Classics season. He finished second on Stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse on challenging terrain, winning the sprint to the line but finishing behind the stage winning solo attack from Luis León Sanchez. Sagan then won Stage 3 on a cobbled inclined finish, using his race smarts and good positioning to make the most of an inadvertent perfect lead-out by Jasper Stuyven from Trek-Segafredo, who must have thought he had his teammate John Degenkolb on his wheel. Sagan then demonstrated his consistency by finishing 3rd and 2nd on the remaining sprint stages (Stages 4 & 5) and securing the Points Classification in the process.

Only 5 points behind Sagan on the Points Classification at the Tour de Suisse was Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep), the rider Sagan lost out too on Stages 4 & 5. Could this be a foreteller of things to come at the Tour in July for Viviani? To be competitive in the Points Classification at the Tour, Viviani will certainly need to avoid the inconsistency he showed at the Giro d’Italia in May. However, one thing Viviani does have in his favour come the tour is his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates and in particular the inclusion of Michael Mørkøv and Max Richeze as his preferred lead out men. Although Deceuninck-QuickStep have named a very strong squad for the Tour with the intention to fight for stage wins and jerseys on multiple fronts, there is the potential for Viviani to be supported in a quest for the Green Jersey. 

The biggest rivals to Sagan and Viviani in the sprint finishes will likely be Dylan Groenewegan (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), both of whom have warmed up for the Tour de France by taking part in the ZLM Tour (a stage race with a prologue and 4 stages held in mid-June). On the 3 sprint stages, Groenewegan finished 1st, 1st and 3rd, and Ewan 3rd, 2nd and 1st. Both are therefore coming into the Tour in good form and will be keen to secure stage wins. The question that remains is whether either rider will be interested in being caught in a battle for the green jersey and using up their energy to fight out the intermediate sprints. At the 2018 Tour de France, Groenewegan won 2 stages but did not earn a single point at an intermediate sprint. He is also part of a team with multiple ambitions at the Tour, in particular Steven Kruijwijk in the General Classification (GC) and whatever they plan for Wout Van Aert (more on him in a moment). Ewan has exhibited an ability to be competitive on some difficult inclined finishes, so there is the potential for him to be competitive in a fight for a Green Jersey. But in his first Tour de France and relative inexperience at 3-week Grand Tours (he is yet to finish any of the 4 Grand Tours he has started), there is a strong likelihood he will focus on stage wins only. And with Tour starting in Brussels, there will be a strong motivation for his Belgium team to win Stage 1 and secure the first Yellow Jersey of the Tour.

The other traditional lead-up race to the Tour is the Critérium du Dauphiné. However, the 2019 edition was heavily slanted to attract the climbers and GC contenders. The two sprint stages were dominated by Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Sam Bennett (Bora – hansgrohe), with a win and second place apiece. Van Aert was the revelation of the race (which also included a time trial victory), but a closer examination shows that many of the sprinters he beat (including Bennett) will not be at the Tour. Hence, for sprinting form, the Dauphiné is unlikely to be a significant reference. Van Aert has also been open to the media that his role in the team at the Tour would be primarily to support Groenewegan and Kruijwijk, with the Team and Individual Time Trials also of particular focus for him.

Of the rest of the contenders, consistent top 6 finishes at the Tour de Suisse from Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) indicates that both riders will likely be consistent performers at the Tour (particularly on rolling terrain). But they are unlikely to be a genuine chance of winning the Points Classification unless something unfortunate were to befall Sagan.

Other sprinters expected to feature prominently in sprint finishes depending on the terrain include Jens Debusshere (Team Katusha Alpecin), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data), Giacomo Nizzolo (Team Dimension Data), Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida) and possibly even the veteran André Greipel (Team Arkéa-Samsic). But on recent form they are likely to be a level below the aforementioned riders.

Viviani’s teammate Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) may also accumulate points in the Points Classification as a by-product of his quest to win the Best Climber Classification. But his points total will likely be well below a competitive total to win the classification.

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Prediction

If all riders stay fit and healthy and reach Paris in good shape, the most likely challenger for Sagan in the Points Classification is Viviani. The following is my prediction on how I would expect it to play out. 

Intermediate Sprints

In 2018, the average number of riders in breakaways on flat sprint stages was 3.5 riders. So typically on these stages the sprinters will likely be fighting for about 12 points on average at the intermediate sprint.

There should be plenty of opportunities on more difficult stages also. In particular on stages 6, 8 and 20 the intermediate sprints are very early in the stage and it could be quite possible that the sprinters are fighting for the maximum 20 points.

There are probably only 1 or 2 realistic opportunities for Sagan to get into a breakaway and collect the maximum intermediate sprint points available with none of his rivals present, with perhaps Stage 9 the most likely place for such a venture.

All in all, if a rider such as Viviani takes the Points Classification seriously he could break even in points from intermediate sprints with Sagan.

Rolling Terrain

Sagan’s biggest superiority to his rivals is his ability to feature in stage finishes that his sprinting rivals cannot. Stages 3 and 5 look like prime examples of this and potentially Stage 10. Unfortunately for Sagan, the winner of these stages will only receive 30 points, unlike the maximum bonus of 50 points for winning on the flat stages.

Viviani would do well to feature in the stage finish on any of these rolling terrain stages, with Stage 10 the most likely place he could feature in the final sprint.

Flat Stages

Sagan would be expected to be a consistent top-4 finisher on the flat stages. Although on most of the sprinter friendly stages, he may not be able to overcome all of Groenewegan, Ewan and Viviani.

However, there is potentially a saving grace for Sagan. Stage 17 appears to be a challenging stage with a Category 3 climb less than 10km from the finish line. Yet the official rules have classified the stage with a Coefficient of 1 (potentially erroneously), meaning a maximum 50 points for the Stage winner. If a breakaway doesn’t succeed and Sagan manages to drop his rivals on that climb, a 50-point Stage win could be a fatal blow to his rivals, and secure Sagan his 7th Green Jersey.

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For updates over the next 3 weeks on the progress of the 2019 Points Classification, follow me on Twitter - @AE_blogger. For a flavour of what to expect, the following is a summary of how the 2018 competition played out.

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 2018 Points Classification

A glance at the final standings for the 2018 Points Classification reads as a straight forward win for Peter Sagan, but there was plenty of interest and intrigue to the contest.

Stages 1-5

Fernando Gaviria in his debut Tour de France announced himself as the dominant sprinter of the race in the opening stages. Well supported by his Quick-Step Floors teammates, Gaviria won 2 of the opening 3 sprint stages, but an untimely crash inside the last 2km of Stage 2 most likely prevented Gaviria taking the clean sweep. Peter Sagan was the primary beneficiary of Gaviria’s misfortune, taking the stage win in Gaviria’s absence due to the crash. With Sagan also runner-up to Gaviria in the other opening Sprint stages, a win on the rolling parcours of Stage 5 resulted in Sagan opening up a 33-point lead in the Points Classification. Only 38 riders made it to the finish line in the front group, emphasising Sagan’s ability to contest stage finishes that none of his principle Green Jersey competitors can come close to replicating.

Of particular note in the opening 5 stages was Gaviria’s willingness to take on the Intermediate Sprints, claiming more points than any other rider. With relatively small breakaways in the opening 4 road stages (3, 1, 4 and 7 riders in the breakaways respectively), there were plenty of points available for the pro-active Sprinter.

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Stages 6-8

With a difficult finish on Stage 6, Sagan further extended his overall lead with an 8th place and another 11 points.

With Stages 7 & 8 returning to the domain of the sprinters, a new force announced himself, with Dylan Groenewegen winning back-to-back stages. After winning the Stages, Groenewegen acknowledged that he felt below par in the opening week of the Tour. Of particular note, in the opening 8 stages Groenwegen did not collect a single point from Intermediate Sprints, highlighting that his sole focus was on Stage wins.

In a messy sprint to the line on Stage 8, a clash between Gaviria and André Greipel resulted in both sprinters being relegated by officials after the stage, forfeiting the points won in the sprint. The result was costly for Gaviria, as it allowed Sagan to open up a 63-point lead.

Stages 7 & 8 were also notable once again for the small breakaways (1 & 2 riders in the breakaways respectively), providing even more points opportunities for the Sprinters at the intermediate sprints.

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Stages 9-12

After 8 stages Sagan’s hold on the Green Jersey already looked safe, and Stage 9 appeared to confirm that his rivals had all but conceded the title. With a 10-man breakaway ahead of the peleton, there were points available for 5 riders at the Intermediate Sprint. Peter Sagan won the sprint ahead of 4 of his Bora-hansgrohe teammates.

But Sagan was going to leave nothing to chance, getting in the breakaways in both Stages 10 and 11 to claim maximum points at the Intermediate Sprints. And whilst Sagan collected points, his rivals began dropping like flies. Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel were eliminated on Stage 11 after finishing outside the time cut, and then Groenwegen, Gaviria and Greipel all failed to finish Stage 12.

After 12 stages the Points Classification standings suddenly looked very different with the elimination of Sagan’s closest rivals.

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Stages 13-16

2nd, 3rd and 4th in the overall standing after Stage 12, Alexander Kristoff, Arnaud Demare and John Degenkolb were all of a sudden in a race for second place in the Points Classification and any mishap by Sagan that would put him out of the race would suddenly open the door for a fortunate winner of the Green Jersey in Paris.

Perhaps buoyed by this possibility, all 3 riders were prominent in the intermediate sprint on Stage 13, although ultimately they fell back into their pecking order by finishing 2nd, 3rd and 4th behind Sagan in the Stage finish.

Given his enormous lead in the competition there was no need for Sagan to aggressively search for more points, but on Stages 14 & 15 Sagan was in the breakaway again hoovering up maximum intermediate sprint points. By the end of Stage 16 Sagan had mathematically won the competition and all he needed to do was reach the finish line in Paris…

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Stages 17-21

Descending the second climb of the day on Stage 17, disaster struck when Sagan overcooked a corner and went off road into the forest. Sagan later summarized the incident like only he could do – “I flew through the forest and I hit a big rock with my ass”. He managed to remount and finish the stage with the team later confirming that X-rays had found no fractures, and that he had only suffered heavy abrasions and bruising.

Sagan started Stage 18, but he was clearly not himself as he was uncompetitive in the sprint to the line won by Demare, a result that put him within touching distance of Kristoff in second place in the competition, which suddenly had some significance with Sagan’s travails and the ominously difficult Stage 19 to come the next day. 

On Stage 19, Peter Sagan survived, but only just. Sagan concluded, “I’ve just experienced what was undoubtedly my most testing and difficult day on the bike for 10 years.” Surrounded by teammates, Sagan reached the finish line and secured victory in the Points Classification with only a Time Trial and the final stage onto the Champs-Élysées remaining.

With a wounded Sagan and the absence of the top Sprinters that were lost earlier in the race, Kristoff won the prestigious final sprint on the Champs-Élysées ahead of Degenkolb and Demare.

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OTHER SPECIFIC RULES

  • In the event of a dead heat during a stage, the riders concerned are credited with the points that would have been attributed to those finishing positions, the points being divided by the number of competitors involved in the tie.

  • Points obtained in this way are rounded up to the nearest 1/2 point.

  • If riders are equal on points in this classification, they are separated by their number of stage wins and then by their number of wins in the intermediate sprints that count towards the points classification, and, finally, by their ranking in the general classification.

  • Only riders who complete the entire Tour de France shall be included in the points classification.

  • In the event where a rider or riders finish outside the time limit but are reinstated by the president of the commissaires’ jury, they will lose all points awarded to them in the points classification.

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[1] ASO. “Rules Regulations”, rules-reglement-tour-de-france-2019.pdf. Link: https://netstorage.lequipe.fr/ASO/cycling_tdf/rules-reglement-tour-de-france-2019.pdf

The 2019 Australian Open – Men's Final

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