Could Peter Sagan’s Headbutt Cost Him The Green Jersey? [Video]
Not only did Peter Sagan miss out on a stage win at the Tour de France on Wednesday, but he also may have cost himself a shot at the green jersey for the race’s points competition.
As the pack sprinted for the finish line of Stage 11 in Poitiers, France, Sagan shouldered his way past Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert, who was positioned close to the right side of the barriers. It wasn’t the only bit of bumping in the sprint, but the commissaires—perhaps mindful of Fabio Jakobsen’s horrific crash at the Tour of Poland under similar circumstances—weren’t having it, and relegated Sagan to last place in the group.
The move cost him the 30 points he’d earned with his second-place finish to stage winner Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal, plus another 13 points assessed as penalty—all while rival Sam Bennett of Deceuninck-Quick Step moved up to Sagan’s finishing spot and grabbed the extra points that go with it. Bennett now leads Sagan in the points competition by 68 points: 243 to Sagan’s 175.
Riders are awarded points for stage finish placings, and placings at intermediate sprints along each day’s route (except for Stage 20’s individual time trial). Intermediate sprint points are awarded in a descending scale (20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) to the first 15 riders across the line, but breakaways often take the top handful of positions, leaving lesser points for the sprinters.
Sagan, who has won the Tour de France points standings a record seven times, has never faced a deficit quite like this one. He’s usually wearing the green jersey at this point in the race; the exception was 2017, when he was DQ’d on Stage 4 for similar sprint behavior. It’s possible he’ll re-focus his efforts on other goals. But if he wants to wear green in Paris another time, there’s an extremely narrow path for him to follow, albeit one that’s ideally suited to his strengths.
There are three stages left that will possibly end in sprints: Stages 14, 19, and 21. Those stages carry points through 15 places (50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2). Another two stages—12 and 16—are hillier and feature a reduced point scale (30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6-5-4-3-2), again, through the top 15 finishers. The five other remaining stages in the Tour are significant mountain stages, often with summit finishes; no sprinter is expected to contend, including in the time trial.
For Sagan, it’s down to intermediate sprint points and those five possible sprint stage finishes. There’s a maximum of 180 points remaining at intermediate sprints and 210 more in those five stage finishes. Of course, Sagan can’t win all of it, nor is it conceivable that Bennett would score zero points from now to Paris.
What does work to some degree in Sagan’s favor is the course profile. While the points competition winner is often thought of as the race’s best sprinter, it actually prizes placing consistency, and that’s where Sagan excels. He has nine or more top-10 stage finishes every year he’s won green. This year, he’s a bit behind pace, with just four so far.
Bennett, on the other hand, is a pure field sprinter. He’s performed well in the sprints so far, but doesn’t climb quite on par with Sagan. The Bora rider needs to race aggressively in situations where Bennett and his team can’t easily control the pack and breakaways.
We’ll know as soon as Thursday and Friday if Sagan is looking to take the green again. Thursday’s Stage 12 finish provides an excellent opportunity for Bora to drive the pack over the final, steep climb and drop Bennett. The question is whether Sagan also tries to go in the breakaway at least to start the stage and get the intermediate sprint points too. Friday looks like a perfect breakaway opportunity for Sagan, with three climbs to start, then the intermediate sprint. It’s a summit finish, but the early part of the course suggests Sagan can get top intermediate points while Bennett misses out entirely.
Let’s say Sagan doesn’t jump in Thursday’s breakaway, which survives to the finish, but does win the bunch sprint for sixth place (17 points). Bennett is dropped on the Category 2 Sac au May climb shortly before the finish and scores no points. Then Friday, Sagan does go in the breakaway over the climbs, which Bennett can’t match, and gets top intermediate sprint points (20), while Bennett scores none. In two days, Sagan claws back 37 points—more than half his deficit.
Saturday is another opportunity. Stage 14 features a short but steep Category 4 climb early in the race—just before the intermediate sprint, where Bora might try to drop Bennett—and a bunch finish coming after two small Category 4 climbs that might suit Sagan better.
Those aren’t high-percentage chances; nearly everything has to go right for it all to work. But Sagan needs these kinds of asymmetric opportunities, where he can score points in bunches and Bennett can’t. There are no opportunities like that for Bennett; barring mishaps, Sagan will be there for every sprint.
Right now, the green jersey competition looks a little out of reach for Sagan. Bennett has the advantage that Sagan usually does in that he can play defense. Besides avoiding crashes or illness, if Bennett can stay with Sagan over even some of the climbs to level the score in intermediate sprints, and notch a top-three finish in Paris, the jersey will be very hard to lose.
But you can never count Sagan out; he has a habit of doing things that he has no business doing, like moving from dead-last, back-row position at the start of the 2016 Olympic mountain bike race to the top 10 within 45 seconds of the start, or winning the overall at the 2015 Tour of California after finishing sixth on the queen climbing stage to Mount Baldy.
We’ll know by the weekend if he plans to make another run at green. If he does, it could be one of the most entertaining competitions of the race.