Sagan’s green jersey hopes are still alive, but fading

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For the first time since 2011, seven-time points classification winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) looks likely to finish the Tour de France in Paris wearing his own team kit.

With five stages to go at the 2020 Tour, Sagan finds himself 45 points behind Sam Bennett in the battle for the green jersey. Although he has fought doggedly for points over the past two weeks, Sagan’s versatility has not been enough thus far to outmatch Bennett’s top-end speed. The Irishman has won a stage and finished inside the top five on four other occasions in this race, while the three-time world champ has notched the same number of top-five finishes but only finished as high as third on a stage one time thus far.

As such, Bennett is now the oddsmakers’ heavy favorite to maintain green through to the end of the race — no small feat considering Sagan’s track record. The 30-year-old Slovakian has won every green jersey since 2012 but one, missing out on the 2017 points title after he was expelled from the race.

Of course, this Tour isn’t over yet, and Peter Sagan said over the rest day that he was “still in the game.” So before we write any eulogies for the green jersey dominance of Peter Sagan, we figure it’s worth taking a closer look at the road ahead to be absolutely sure: Is Sagan really out of the running for green?

To be perfectly honest, he probably is — but there are two potential avenues for Sagan to reclaim green over the final few days of this race.

The first will require him to pick up quite a few points on Bennett before the pair arrives in Paris.

Bennett is firmly ahead after 16 stages. Follow the link for more charts like these.

There are, of course, two ways to score points for the green jersey: at intermediate sprints and at stage finishes. Unfortunately for Sagan, he’s really only likely to have a shot at scoring finish line points on stages 19 and 21, as stages 17 and 18 are probably too hard and stage 20 is a time trial. What’s more, Bennett has a great chance of extending his lead on the stage 21 sprint finish in Paris, so Sagan will probably need to end up doing more than just covering the 45-point deficit he currently faces to have any shot at overhauling Bennett.

Stage 18, the other sprinter-friendly day, is his best chance to do that. Its hillier profile will leave at least some small possibility that Bora-Hansgrohe can put in the work to drop the purer sprinters (assuming the pack can even reel in the break). It won’t be easy to pull off, but if Sagan can get a clean run at the finish without Bennett scoring points of his own, it would put him back into bona fide contention for green.

On top of that, Sagan will need to continue to battle Bennett for intermediate sprint points — but again, unfortunately for Sagan, options for outclassing Bennett at the intermediates are limited. Deceuninck-QuickStep will work hard to keep Sagan out of breakaways, and based on the sprint locations on stages 17, 18, and 21, if Sagan is in the mix for points in the pack, Bennett is likely to be there too. Stage 19 is, once again, the only obvious opportunity, with some up-and-down before a relatively late sprint point.

If Sagan and his teammates can manage to put Bennett in the rearview mirror on the 19th stage and everything else goes right, he could conceivably pick up a maximum of 70 total points, if he can win both the intermediate sprint and the stage. If he can deliver strong intermediate efforts on the other stages and a great ride on the Champs-Élysées, he might just be able to reclaim green.

Of course, that’s a lot of ifs. Frankly, it’s probably too many for Sagan to pull it all off, but for now, we’re saying there’s a chance.

Sagan has accrued significantly fewer points at the 2020 Tour than in previous years. The top line is 2018, the next one down is 2019.

In any case, Sagan could conceivably still win green another way — after all, Bennett still has to finish the race to secure the points title, and with some tough mountain stages ahead, that won’t be a given.

The time cut is perhaps the one thing working in Sagan’s favor over the rest of this race, particularly with two brutal days in a row coming on stage 17 and 18. While the versatile Sagan will probably make it up and over the Col de la Madeleine without too much trouble, Bennett will almost certainly be near the back of the race. He’s already spent a lot of time back there – in fact, he finished particularly far behind on stages 8 and 15, where he was among the final finishers on the day, and stages 12 and 13, where he was the very last rider across the line.

Then again, Bennett has some things going in his favor. First and foremost, he’s a talented rider who climbs better than some other sprint stars. He also happens to have a dedicated Deceuninck-QuickStep squad around him that is no longer worried about Julian Alaphilippe’s GC chances. And in his most recent showing, stage 16, Bennett actually looked at least OK, crossing the line in the huge group of riders finishing 27:27 back.

On the whole, Bennett seems likelier than not to finish the 2020 Tour de France — and he seems pretty likely to do so as the points champion. After a consistent effort over the course of this race, he is a worthy favorite to take his first green jersey.

Just the same, the Tour ain’t over till it’s over, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the intermediate sprints and the gruppetto to see this battle through to the end.

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