Peter Sagan and the green jersey: A natural fit

Five-time Tour de France points classification winner not bored yet of the maillot vert

Some things just go together. Thunder and lighting, peaches and cream, tequila and bad decisions, and Peter Sagan and the green jersey. He has often made it appear easy but, as he targets a record-equalling sixth, the world champion says he's not bored of it yet.

"I try to do my best to get another one, and then the next year another one, and then maybe I'm bored," Sagan told a packed house at the Specialized store in the centre of Düsseldorf.

"I don't know. It's a very hard competition, the Tour de France; you have to concentrate for 21 days. It's not sure, to take a green jersey is very hard. You have to fight for that from the first day to the last one. It's hard, and for sure it's not boring."

Sagan first won the points classification with his romping Tour de France debut in 2012 and has not looked like giving it up since. Over the years, many have tried and failed to rip the jersey from his grasp, and some will try again this year, but the closest anyone has got to achieving such a feat was André Greipel in 2015, who, even after winning four stages, was still 76 points shy of the Slovak's tally.

Last year was the zenith of Sagan's powers in that competition when it seemed that almost nothing and nobody could touch him. By the time he reached Paris, he had won three stages and had amassed 470 points, more than he had in any other year. Marcel Kittel, his closest rival had just 228.

There has been talk about how the 2017 course has opened up the general classification battle, giving many more riders a chance get into the top places, and it has also done the same to the competition for the green jersey. There are many more opportunities for the pure sprinters, while an in-form Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) should give Sagan a run for his money. While it is almost impossible to look past the world champion after his previous performances, he refuses to take it for granted that he will be on that podium in Paris in just over three weeks.

"From the start, everybody has a chance," he said. "In the Tour de France, anything can happen. You could have a crash, or get an injury, or you could do bad sprints from the start, there are many different situations. For sure, there are a lot of strong people at the Tour de France, and we have to be focused all the time."

Should he carry the green jersey into Paris, Sagan will equal the record of Erik Zabel – which is fitting considering where the Tour de France starts this year. Zabel's record has stood since 2001, and it would be a major achievement to match it, even by Sagan's high standards.

Sagan is superstitious - in an interview with Cyclingnews earlier in the year he ran off to knock on wood at the first mention of the green jersey - and he protests that he's not taking the record into consideration.

"Why are you always asking me about the future? I don't know. I will try to do my best. It's like in life, if you want too much then you can lose too much," he said.

"I'm doing my career. I'm not thinking about records, but for sure it's something more."

As the press conference came to a close, a question came that has dogged him, in particular in during the 2014 and 2015 Tours de France, where he racked up an impressive number of top three placings without actually raising his arms in victory: "What would you prefer, a stage win or the green jersey?"

Back then, the question may not have received an answer, or if so a terse, "why don't you try it," might have come through gritted teeth.

With three wins in his pocket in 2016, the question was met with a little more humour. "Both," was his immediate response, before adding, "I also prefer to be one day in the white jersey. I'm getting old guys."

While 27 is certainly not old by most people's standards, it is just a little too old for that particular ambition and will have to let that one slide. The green jersey, however, is his to lose.

Sagan and green: The story so far

Sagan's career began in the same way Mark Cavendish's did before him, and Fernando Gaviria's has done now. They are different types of riders, but they have one thing in common: they were winning right from the off.

Turning professional in 2010 with Liquigas, at the tender age of 20, Sagan didn't hang about to start building what is now an enviable palmares. His first professional victory came in March at Paris-Nice on stage 3 and another would follow two days later. Both were canny and aggressive rides and marked out the style of riding that would serve him so well in the green jersey fight in later years.

Three stage wins at the following season's Vuelta a España, including the final sprint stage into Madrid that showed his wide ranging repertoire, and by the time he made his Tour de France debut in 2012, the expectations were very high. His repertoire of victory celebrations was also garnering attention from fans and detractors alike.

Sagan had the skill to back up the bravado and he didn't have to wait long to break out some new celebrations at the Tour de France. The first came on stage 1, when he outpaced Fabian Cancellara and Edvald Boasson Hagen into Seraing. That win would give Sagan his first taste of the green jersey, a flavour so good he didn't let anyone else have a look-in over the next three weeks.

Two more stage wins would come Sagan's way, plus top-three finishes in four more stages. The Slovakian would complete the Tour de France with a winning margin of 141 points over Andre Greipel in the green jersey competition. Both Greipel and Cavendish finished the Tour with three victories, but it was Sagan's consistency that would hammer his advantage home.

That would prove crucial in the coming seasons, particularly when actual stage wins seemed much harder to come by. In 2013, Sagan had nigh impossible targets to beat following his emphatic debut. The rest of the peloton had wised up to his talents, and kept a much closer watch on him. This time around, Sagan would have to wait until stage 7 to stand on the victory podium, but his sheer ability to ensure he was in the mix on every stage that remotely suited his capabilities meant that he was already in green after two days of racing.

As he had done in 2012, Sagan refused to let the jersey get away from his grasp, even if it was just a loan of a day or too. No more victories would come the Slovakian's way and Cavendish would push him much closer than he had been the previous season, but the gap was still a relatively comfortable 97 points by the time they reached Paris.

The lean years

In his early years, winning seemed a mere formality for Sagan, but with each endeavour the peloton learned to be cautious of him. His sheer strength worked against him sometimes and he was often too eager to show his hand too early. A lack of support in the sprints meant that he had to do the graft himself, which the other teams were all too willing to let him do.

The frustration was evident for Sagan as he faced repeated questions in the Tour's mixed zone – a requirement for stage winners and jersey wearers – every day. His run, which saw him take 19 top-five finishes over two editions, was an impressive feat nevertheless. Even without securing that victory he clearly wanted, he was still able to beat Alexander Kristoff by 159 points in the 2014 race.

An in-form Greipel won four stages in 2015, and gave Sagan a run for his money. He is one of the only riders to manage to take the green jersey from Sagan during the Tour, but Sagan's ability to manage the tougher stages came in handy. The Slovakian got in early breaks to take intermediate points and results such as his fifth place on the challenging finish into Mende – where Stephen Cummings usurped Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot – and his second place behind Ruben Plaza into Gap proved vital in securing him his fourth green jersey in as many years.

On top of his game

Sagan's fifth jersey was his best yet, and a masterclass in how to take out the points classification in style. Freed by him World Championships victory at the end of the 2015 season, Sagan was in commanding form in 2016 and the Sagan of his debut Tour de France was back. The uphill finish to Cherbourg on stage 2 gave Sagan his first shot for victory and he took it with both hands, beating Julian Alaphilippe and putting himself into yellow as well as green.

A dominant Cavendish took it back on two separate occasions, but consistent top-five finishes over the next few days kept him within touching distance. Once the race hit the hillier second and third week, the Manxman was no match for the Slovakian. On stage 10, he got into a breakaway with six others and it was only a concerted effort from Orica-BikeExchange – who had three riders in the move, including Matthews – that denied him the victory.

Back in green and pushed on by the defeat of the day before, he utilised the blustery finish into Montpellier on stage 11 to break free of the bunch with his teammate Bodnar and race leader Chris Froome. In two days, he had gone from a seven-point deficit to close to a 100-point advantage.

True to form, Sagan continued to push through the mountains, taking the intermediate sprints as and when he could. As the race reached the end of the second week, he clocked up another victory, edging out Kristoff into Bern. Cavendish's departure on the second rest-day sealed the deal for Sagan, giving him his best winning margin yet of 242.

This year, a fully backed Matthews is likely to be his biggest challenger. If Matthews can step up to the task, Sagan will have to push much harder then before, but that will surely only bring out the best in him.

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