Early-season report card: how the green jersey contenders are shaping up for summer
The WorldTour's elite fast men gear up for the Tour de France
As April draws to a close, the WorldTour season is about to hot up – with attention turning to the Grand Tours.
The Giro d’Italia is just ten days away, while the 101st Tour de France will be upon us in less than ten weeks.
For the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) the focus now shifts to the race for the maglia rosa, while Chris Froome (Team Sky) begins to hone his Tour de France form at the Tour de Romandie, which started today (April 29).
The WorldTour’s fast men have also been gearing up for the summer – British champion Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) winning the first two stages of the Tour of Turkey – where Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) has returned from action.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and team-mate John Degenkolb, meanwhile, have been gearing up for the Tour with a recce of the Yorkshire routes.
All will do battle for the green jersey at the Tour de France, as they bid to prevent Peter Sagan (Cannondale) making it three consecutive wins.
But how is the race for the prized maillot jaune shaping up? Read our April report cards on the WorldTour’s fast men over the following pages, and share your own nominations in the RCUK Forum.
[part title="Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)"]
Illness, what illness? British champion Mark Cavendish suffered a disrupted Classics campaign after a bout of gastroenteritis. It saw him miss the opportunity to record a record-breaking Scheldeprijs victory, having already pulled out of Gent-Wevelgem and the Three Days of De Panne.
But the Manx Missile has roared back into form with two victories from two at the Tour of Turkey – beating the likes of Elia Viviani (Cannondale) to show his rivals he is not short of race form.
Earlier in the season, a slow start to the campaign – which yielded a solitary Volta ao Algarve stage win – had led to questions over his fitness and form but Omega Pharma-Quickstep have answered those emphatically. His stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico was as comprehensive as they come – the Belgian super team’s lead-out completely obliterating their rivals. Cav lacked the legs to sprint to victory at Milan-San Remo – despite a sterling effort to stay with the leading group – but fifth place there was also encouraging.
He lacks the climbing ability of Peter Sagan but if Cavendish keeps winning races, there is no reason the green jersey can not be his in July.
[part title="Peter Sagan (Cannondale)"]
Slovak sensation Peter Sagan is targeting a third consecutive green jersey in the summer –and on his form so far this season it is difficult to look beyond the Cannondale man achieving exactly that. Sagan currently sits eighth in the WorldTour rankings – which coupled with his four victories so far this season is testament to his all-round ability.
While he lacks the sprint of his main green jersey rivals – reflected in the number of near-misses he has had so far this season, such as Tirreno-Adriatico stage six and at Gent-Wevelgem – his ability as a rouleur is what marks him as clear green jersey favourite. Victory at the Tour of Oman on the undulating stage to the Ministry of Housing and then on the uphill cobbled finish at Tirreno-Adriatico stage three – not to mention his E3-Harelbeke success – have all served as reminders to his rivals of why he will take some stopping at the Tour.
[part title="Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol)"]
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry – and the same can be said of The Gorilla apparently. Andre Greipel made a flying start to the season as his Lotto-Belisol team-mates showed the profits of the work they put into their lead-outs by earning their team leader six victories before February had ended.
Strong form – albeit without adding to his tally of wins – followed at Tirreno-Adriatico though he was unable to live up to his pre-race billing at Milan-San Remo. But then, all his early-season work came crashing down – quite literally – after he hit the deck at Gent-Wevelgem.
A collarbone fracture meant a month off the bike, and Greipel is now facing a battle to return to the sort of form which brought three stage wins and the points jersey at the Tour of Oman. It was not just his victories which impressed either, but the stages on which he was performing too – a lumpy stage into Al Bustan looked more set up for the rouleurs in the bunch, but Lotto-Belisol worked hard to set up Greipel instead.
Likewise, en route to Angastan at the Tour Down Under, Greipel had been in top form, taking second on a course which saw Mark Renshaw finish more than two minutes back and Marcel Kittel cross eight minutes later.
To have returned from injury so quickly shows the German’s commitment to starting the Tour de France, but his green jersey hopes will be resting on his race fitness.
[part title="Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr)"]
Nacer Bouhanni’s five victories so far this season have all come in his home country, and the 23-year-old Frenchman will be hoping that is a sign of more success to come when the Tour de France arrives on French soil in July.
Though his first task will be at the Giro d’Italia, Bouhanni has a point to prove at the Tour de France after a crash meant he could only complete five stages of last year’s race.
He proved his sprinting form at Paris-Nice in particular, recovering from a crash to win stage one and finishing third on stage two – and maintaining the yellow jersey – despite having his leg heavily gauzed as a result of his injury. It forced his early withdrawal from the race but a stage win at the Criterium International followed, before more success at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire and the one-day race, the GP de Denain Porte du Hainaut. His form at the Giro d’Italia will be a big indication as to whether he has it in him to challenge for the green jersey at the Tour.
[part title="Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano)"]
Marcel Kittel is desperate to wear the yellow jersey again at the Tour de France – and his very public recce of the route in Yorkshire was further evidence of such desire. But once stage one is out of the way, does he have what it takes to battle for the green jersey? Four stage wins last time out still found him behind Sagan, Cavendish and Greipel in the points classification – with the intermediate sprints and undulating stages proving his undoing.
In flashes this year, he has shown improvement – three straight victories at the Dubai Tour included a hugely-impressive one where he emerged from the middle of a much-reduced leading pack to blast to victory.
At the Tour Down Under and Tirreno-Adriatico however, such victories did not even look like coming. At the former, his team failed to cope with the crosswinds and moderate climbs while at the latter his unfortunate crash – and subsequent bike throw – were followed by more cases of the Giant-Shimano team missing the split. Victory at Scheldeprijs reminded everybody why Mark Cavendish considers him the next great sprinter, and you certainly would not count him out for more stage wins this year. But the green jersey? It takes more than what Kittel has so far shown to win the maillot vert.