After Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory last year, Chris Froome is hoping to ensure the yellow jersey is won by a Brit for the second successive time at the 100th edition of cycling’s greatest race.
However, if Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) can repeat his 2011 success, there will also be a Brit in the green jersey – the first time British riders will have topped both the general and points classifications at the same time.
The Manx Missile faces a real battle, however, not least from last year’s winner, the Slovakian road race champion, Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling).
Having already profiled the leading candidates for the maillot blanc and the polka dot jersey, here we look in depth at five riders bidding to top the points classification at this year’s Tour, which is set to roll out in Corsica on Saturday June 29.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)
Last year, French newspaper L’Equipe voted Cavendish as the greatest Tour de France sprinter of all time, a title he has earned with 23 stage victories and the green jersey in 2011.
He has also twice finished second in the points classification, missing out to Norway’s Thor Hushovd (Carvelo TestTeam) in 2009 and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese) of Italy in 2010.
Since quitting Team Sky for Omega Pharma-Quickstep at the end of last season, Cavendish, 28, has enjoyed a successful six months, having won the opening stage of the Tour de San Luis on his debut.
He went on to claim the second overall stage-race victory of his career at the Tour of Qatar – where he won four stages to also top the points classification and last weekend became national champion for the first time.
His crowning glory came last month however, when he became only the fifth rider of all time to have won topped the points classification at all three Grand Tours.
Despite frustration at his Omega Pharma-Quickstep sprint train falling foul of a mechanical fault on the opening stage – not for the first time this year – Cavendish catapulted himself to the maglia rosa with victory in the sprint finish.
And despite a route with little opportunities for the sprinters Cavendish maintained his good form to storm to the top of the points classification, collecting four more stage victories along the way while also confirming he has the endurance to contest intermediate sprints.
He is now set up to become only the second rider – after Uzbekistani sprint specialist Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – to complete a Giro-Tour points classification double in the same year.
However, with the route containing less flat stages than in recent years – with only seven included this year – his complete lack of climbing ability could open the door to his green jersey rivals.
Nevertheless the Manxman, peerless on a flat finish, could seal his green jersey with an unprecedented fifth consecutive win on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday July 21.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cyclist)
Still only 23, Slovakian sprint star Peter Sagan could not have asked for a better Tour debut as he stormed to three stage victories and won the coveted green jersey.
Already a three-time stage winner at the Vuelta, the reigning and three-time, back-to-back Slovakian national champion finished more than 140 points ahead of second-placed Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) last time out.
This year he has continued his imperious form, proving his incredible finishing speed as he took victory at the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne in March before retaining the Tour of California green jersey in May, which he has held since 2010.
Sagan also proved he has the ability to win alone on his way to victory at the Gent-Wevelgem, which could prove significant given the Cannondale sprint train’s inability to lead Moreno Moser to a single stage win at the Giro.
The Slovakian has also proved he is the strongest of the sprinters when it comes to climbing – a big advantage considering the Tour has less flat stages this year than in recent editions – as evident from his victory in stage three of the Tour de Suisse.
He enters the Tour on the back of topping the points classification in Switzerland and will now bid to become the first rider since Erik Zabel at the turn of the Millenium to win the maillot vert in consecutive years.
However, after being comprehensively out-sprinted by Cavendish on the Champs-Elysees last year, the Slovakian faces a big challenge if he is to beat the Manx Missile.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol)
Backed by what team manager Marc Sergeant believes is the best sprint train in the business, German rider Andre Greipel will lead Lotto-Belisol in the sprints after a great year so far on the roads.
Compatriot Marcel Sieberg, Belgium’s Jurgen Roelandts and New Zealander Greg Henderson are tasked with leading Greipel, 30, to the green jersey having already impressed at the Tour Down Under, Tour of Turkey, Tour Méditerranéen, Tour of Belgium and Ster ZLM Toer this year.
Greipel, whose impressive blend of sheer speed and consistency saw him bag three stage victories at last year’s Tour, topped the points classifications in the Turkish and Méditerranéen races.
Like Sagan and Cavendish, Greipel now stands a very real chance of wearing the yellow jersey after stage one on the flat Corsican coast when the Tour starts on Saturday.
Sergeant has vowed to back the German national champion, who also collected wins at the Cancer Council Helpline Classic and Ronde van Zeeland Seaports, in his bid to add the maillot vert to his points classification win at the 2009 Vuelta.
However, like Cavendish his lack of climbing ability could count against him given the route selected for the 100th edition of the Tour de France, and the Manxman certainly has the edge on the flat finishes.
Nevertheless, having come second last year Greipel will still fancy his chances of becoming the first German since Erik Zabel’s last victory in 2001 to win the coveted green jersey.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE)
Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE have tasked 26-year-old sprinter Matthew Goss with securing their first ever Tour de France stage wins on their second appearance.
He has already broken their Grand Tour duck with a stage victory at last year’s Giro and he claimed third place in the points classification at the last Tour despite a 30-point penalty.
Despite still being relatively young, he has Tour experience and knows what it takes to win the green jersey, having been Cavendish’s lead-out man at HTC when the Manxman won in 2011.
His bid to win the maillot vert for himself will be backed by a tenacious team of strong all-rounders, including Simon Gerrans, veteran Stuart O’Grady and South African national time trial winner, Daryl Impey.
A stage winner at the Tirreno-Adriatico and runner-up to Greipel at the Cancer Council Helpline Classic earlier this year, Goss has topped the points classification at the Tour of Britain and Tour Down Under in the past.
However, while he proved he is capable of racking up the points at last year’s Tour, he is simply not as fast as his main rivals and so will need to rely on stronger tactics and a touch of luck if he is to spring a surprise and bag the green jersey.
John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel (both Argos-Shimano)
In an Argos-Shimano team packed with sprinters, German pair John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel are the stand-out picks.
Degenkolb, winner of five stages at last year’s Vuelta, is perhaps in the best position to challenge for the green jersey having been elected as team leader but both are certainly capable of mounting a surprise in the points classification.
Both riders are extremely fast and consistent when in form, and Degenkolb also boasts an ability to win on uphill finishes which places him above some of the other challengers like Cavendish and Greipel.
Futhermore, with Kittel a strong contender on the flats, Argos-Shimano have the ability to divide the work accordingly and mount a green jersey challenge on both fronts.
Degenkolb’s victory in stage five of last month’s Giro shows Argos are capable of racking up points on the relatively flat stages where the low-category climbs disadvantage out-and-out sprinters.
However, consistently racking up the points required to effectively challenge for the green jersey at the Tour is another matter and there is also the question of whether the sprint-heavy team can rally behind one of the riders to maintain a successful challenge.