The 2012 Tour de France starts in Liege on Saturday (30), with the world’s best cyclists beginning the 99th edition of the world’s greatest cycle race.
We’ve already assessed the contenders for the Team, Young Rider, and King of the Mountains competitions. Today we consider the chances of those with an eye on the green jersey of points competition winner.
Mark Cavendish (Team Sky)
Much has been written of the challenge presented to Cavendish in defending his green jersey this year by riding on a team also contending for overall victory. Cavendish himself has downgraded it from goal to aspiration. Counter arguments to the “Sky can’t chase both jerseys” argument exist, however. The first states that the safest place on flat stages for yellow jersey contender Wiggins is at the front of the bunch, and by riding for Cavendish in such scenarios, the team has little to lose. The second is that Cavendish is quite capable of rolling up his sleeves and engineering his own victories; a theory propounded by the Manxman himself, and with some justification. When served by a lead out train, victory is likely, he says; when left to fend for himself, it is still possible. We’d say so, too.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol)
One of two giant Germans with whom Cavendish must contend this year, Greipel is experienced and lightning fast. Three stages wins at the Tour Down Under (from which Cavendish was absent) got his season off to a flying start; a brace at the Tour of Oman soon followed. In the very recent past, Greipel completed a hat-trick at the Tour of Belgium, a double at the Tour de Luxembourg, and won the second stage of the Ster ZLM Tour. He will carry the backing of a strong team into the Tour; perhaps not as drilled in the lead out as Team Sky, but a useful, top tier squad of quality riders.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Sagan’s success rate surpasses even Cavendish’s, this season at least. The 22-year-old Slovak has seemed unbeatable at times, most recently in the Tour de Suisse earlier this month, where he won four stages, which included a time trial. This impressive quartet of victories, however, was only two-thirds of his haul from the Tour of California. Early season victories at the Tour of Oman and the Volta a Catalunya bookended a solid Classics campaign. Against any other competitor than Cavendish, Sagan would start overwhelming favourite for the green jersey. His Liquigas-Cannondale outfit is a strong team and, in the shape of Daniel Oss, he has an excellent lead out man.
Marcel Kittel (Argos Oil – Shimano)
Another young rider who could conceivably end up with the white and green jerseys, Kittel’s season, while not on the dizzying plane of Sagan’s, has no doubt been successful. Two stage wins at the Tour of Oman came against a field containing Cavendish and Greipel. The two more experienced sprinters were also present at the scene of Kittel’s most recent triumphs: a brace at the Ster ZLM Tour. He couldn’t have hoped to approach the Tour in better form. This time last year, he was contesting the Tour of Poland, and collecting four stage wins in the process. A month later, he won a stage of the Vuelta. Sunshine and stage races clearly suit him.
Petacchi has been there, seen it and done it without having to pay for the t-shirt. Six stage wins brought him the green jersey in 2010, and with it the greatest success of his career relatively late in the day. This year, Petacchi is 38, and in the face of the challenge of Sagan and Kittel, looks as if his time has past. The Tour, however, is the great motivator, and following a hat-trick of victories in last month’s Bayern-Rundfhart, he will enter cycling’s biggest race with confidence. Lampre-ISD rode a strong Giro d’Italia in support of Cunego and Scarponi and will be a disciplined unit in France.