Who wants to join the likes of Erik Zabel, Sean Kelly, Robbie McEwen, Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens and Laurent Jalabert? The 2012 battle for the Tour de France green jersey holds a lot of promise as established champions go head-to-head with the stars of the future.
The inclusion of the intermediate sprint by race director Christian Prudhomme in 2011 added to the intrigue and the contenders will be better for a year of racing under the changed conditions. A key ingredient to this year's battle is the fact that more than a handful of contenders will also be aiming for a medal in the Olympic Games road race, six days following the Tour's finale in Paris. For this reason, two previous points classification winners, Tom Boonen and Thor Hushovd, won't be at the Grand Depart in Liege. This should not, however, take away from the riders who will be fighting it out for the prize in 2012. Cyclingnews takes a look at the top five contenders for this year’s green jersey.
1. Mark Cavendish
Team: Sky Procycling
Career Highlights: 1st UCI Road World Championships – 2011; Tour de France – 20 stages, points classification (2011); Giro d'Italia – 10 stages; Vuelta a Espana – 3 stages
Tour debut: 2007 (T-Mobile)
Best points classification finish: 1st - 2011
Summary: If there's a question regarding Cavendish's 2012 Tour it's whether he will ride all the way to Paris knowing the Olympic Games road race is just six days later. Cavendish is a prolific winner at the grand boucle and this year while he will add to his tally, he will do so with limited support given Sky's general classification ambitions. It's unlikely to be an issue given that when key lead-out man Mark Renshaw was disqualified in 2010, Cavendish still went on to win two more stages.
As he is the defending points champion, Cavendish will be hoping to be protected somewhat by his Sky teammates. Last year a lot of energy was spent by the teams in chasing points at the intermediate sprint and Sky could find this challenging on some of the tougher days where the positioning of Bradley Wiggins is the priority. The first week should be decisive for Cavendish's outlook towards the remainder of the race.
2. Matt Goss
Team: Orica GreenEdge
Career Highlights: Milan – San Remo – 2011; 2nd UCI Road World Championships – 2011; Giro d'Italia – 2 stages; GP Ouest France – 2010.
Tour debut: 2011 (HTC-Highroad)
Best points classification finish: 46th - 2011
Summary: Goss' first year as sprint leader hasn't all been plain sailing with just one solo victory to his name, albeit at the Giro d'Italia, and a frustrating run of five second places.
Unlike Cavendish, Goss says that he is aiming to be in the game once the Tour reaches the Champs Elysees on July 22 with his season steadily building towards a crescendo of this next month of racing. With Orica GreenEdge not focussed on general classification and instead sprint and taking their chances in breakaways, Goss will be able to rely on a lead-out train.
Goss has steadily found his rhythm with his powerful lead-out men Sebastian Langeveld, Brett Lancaster and linchpin Daryl Impey over the last few months and should be in full-flight. Far from being a one-trick pony, the Australian's ability to endure the lumpier days will fall in his favour.
Jose Joaquin Rojas
3. Jose Joaquin Rojas
Career Highlights: 3rd Stages 3 and 5 Tour de France – 2011; Spanish Road Champion 2011; Points classification Tour of Poland – 2007; Mountains classification, Tirreno-Adriatico – 2006.
Tour debut: 2009 (Caisse d'Epargne)
Best points classification finish: 2nd - 2011
Summary: Which Rojas will we see at this year's Tour? The Rojas who is focussed on the prize or the Rojas more concerned about what his competition is doing? The answer could well determine where the Spaniard finishes in the points classification.
In 2011, Rojas wore the green jersey for two days only to be presented and then stripped of it on the third after he was relegated, along with Tom Boonen, for blocking Mark Cavendish at the intermediate sprint. Rojas then claimed he'd been punched by Alessandro Petacchi at the sprint finish. He would wear green once more on Stage 7, before losing it to Philippe Gilbert. With Cavendish then ensconced in green on Stage 13, second-placed Rojas complained to director of competition Jean-Francois Pescheux that his rival was hanging on to cars in the Pyrenees. It was a claim dismissed by Pescheux who suggested that Rojas was "looking for excuses to win."
Rojas has the talent, but he'll need to ignore the drama to claim the green jersey in 2012.
4. Andre Greipel
Team: Lotto Belisol
Career Highlights: 1st Stage 10 Tour de France – 2011; 3rd UCI Road World Championships – 2011; Giro d'Italia – 2 stages; Vuelta a Espana – 4 stages, Points classification – 2009.
Tour debut: 2011 (Omega Pharma - Lotto)
Best points classification finish: 7th - 2011
Summary: Greipel is approaching the Tour with caution saying that he'll decide if he is to make a bid for the green jersey after the first week. The German's showdown with former teammate and great rival Mark Cavendish is sure to be one of the highlights of this 99th edition, given Greipel will be in attendance with his awesome sprint train.
Greipel began the season stating that his team "didn't sleep during the winter" stamping his authority on the Tour Down Under and kicking off his season win tally which now stands at 13. Better for his extra year away from the Highroad sprint train, unlike Cavendish and Goss who are flying solo for the first time, Greipel can call on the services of former Highroad teammates Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson, Lars Bak, and powerhouse Marcel Sieberg. It's easily the strongest lead-out of all contenders for the green jersey so the pressure will be on to win.
5. Peter Sagan
Career Highlights: Vuelta a Espana – 3 stages; Tour of California – 8 stages; 2nd Gent-Wevelgem - 2012
Tour debut: 2012
Best points classification finish: n/a
Summary: We all know that Peter Sagan is good, but the question of how good should be answered at the Tour. Like Greipel, Sagan has 13 wins to his name so far this season, five (five!) of which came at the Tour of California and another four from the Tour de Suisse. Impressive? Absolutely. But when it comes to the Tour, experience counts for a lot.
Sagan comes to the Tour as part of a Liquigas-Cannondale team which has dual ambitions, for both the yellow (Ivan Basso, Vincenzo Nibali) and the green jerseys meaning we'll be seeing a lot of them. In terms of a lead-out, Sagan has formed a solid combination with fellow rouleur Daniel Oss, but don't be surprised if you see the Slovakian striking out on his own – simply because he can. He's another of the green jersey contenders that will benefit from his climbing ability.