93rd Tour de France - ProT
France, July 1-23, 2006
Who will wear the other jerseys in Paris?
The points and mountains prizes, have arguably provided more of a dogfight between rivals in the Armstrong era. John Kenny previews the riders in the frame for this year's sprinter's green jersey and the climber's polka dot jersey.
The Tour does not simply reward the rider with the shortest elapsed time over the three-weeks duration of the race. Some riders, and indeed entire teams, will target the sprinter's and mountain's prizes if they do not have a realistic chance of a high overall placing. The competition for the points and the mountains prizes are much more than a mere sideshow to the main event, the winners will stand alongside the yellow jersey winner in Paris as the top riders in their specialty.
The green jersey prize generally goes to the most consistent finisher, not necessarily the most prolific stage winner. Green jersey legends Sean Kelly and Erik Zabel founded their records on their relentless accumulation of points. Kelly won four green jerseys but only claimed five stages in his long career. Robbie McEwen (Davitamon - Lotto) and Tom Boonen (Quickstep - Innergetic) could provide the fireworks in the first week, but they will need to defend their points all the way to Paris by sprinting for small bonuses along the race route and for minor stage placings.
A chance for a short stay in the yellow jersey is the other bonus for the sprinters before the first long time trial. A good performance against the other sprinters in the prologue is the key. Then it's simply a matter of keeping the race together, winning sprints and collecting time bonuses, et voila - maillot jaune.
The openness of the sprint competition in the last five years has been a large part of its attraction. The points prize has had four different winners during this time. The competition has also been sustained for long periods, with the final victor generally being forced to fight all the way to Paris. Thor Hushovd had to wait until the final stage last year before he secured the title and 2003 incumbent Robbie McEwen lost his jersey to Baden Cooke on the last day.
The main contenders
The battle for the sprinter's prize has a relatively small list of possible winners. McEwen, Tom Boonen and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) have the most realistic chance of securing the green jersey. Alessandro Petacchi's absence due to a broken kneecap sustained during stage three of the Giro narrows the quality of the field considerably. It's hard to see Erik Zabel (Milram) consistently coming around the really fast men in bunch gallops, despite his sentimental favouritism.
McEwen won three stages of the Giro this year and used the Tour of Switzerland to sharpen his form in a bid to regain his Tour points title. He told Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes that his wins in the Giro will lead to more wins in the Tour, "last year I also won three stages in the Giro, then went on to take three in the Tour," he said. "This time, I took three in the Giro again so if it goes the same way I will be happy with that. Actually, if I just win one in the Tour, it is still good,
"My big goal is to win stages in the Tour; if you are winning stages in the Tour, then you are in contention for green as well. You have got to do one to do the other."
World champion Boonen scored a morale-boosting win over McEwen when he won stage one of the Tour of Switzerland (although McEwen was quick to remind his rivals that his wins in the Tour last year came despite having had a mediocre Tour de Suisse).
Boonen's 17 wins this season has put the "curse of the rainbow jersey" myth to bed. There's been no world championship hangover for him; he has already exceeded the 14 wins he took in 2005.
The Belgian's very recent form has also been impressive, winning a stage of the Tour de Suisse, which was an improvement on his two stage places last year. He also seems happy with his Tour preparation, "It is not important for the Tour [to win in Switzerland] but it is important to know right now that I am building form well," he said.
Defending green jersey champion, Hushovd, makes up the trio of favourites. He won the final stage of the Dauphine, underscoring his good form. His consistency in the Tour was the key to his success last year.
Mountains competition. Battle of the ex-mountain bikers?
Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), 2005 winner of the polka dot jersey competition, could face an intriguing battle with his ex-mountain bike colleague Cadel Evans for prize this year. Rasmussen secured the prize when the other contenders gave him too much freedom early in the race. He and Evans may be overly preoccupied with the GC, leaving the jersey open to another rider willing to model themselves on his example.
The mountains prize also requires consistency, but not necessarily to the same extent as the points. A rider wanting climbing points can get in a breakaway on one of the first big mountain stages and win the lions share of the points. The defence of the jersey can require another long breakaway, but polka dot contenders don't have to concentrate on every single bonus point like the sprinters do, because the big climbs are worth so much more than the small ones.
The other mountain contenders
The aging Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) finished fourth to Rasmussen last year and can be expected to launch a challenge in a long early breakaway to garner some easy points before the really high mountains.
French riders have won the jersey in ten of the last eleven Tours. The retired Virenque won seven of these titles, but the mountains jersey remains the most realistic avenue for a French rider to gain a place on the podium in Paris. With national pride on the line, Moreau and lesser lights such as David Moncoutié (Cofidis) may lift for the title.
Iban Mayo's return to form in the Dauphine may inspire him to chase the prize if he finds himself out of contention for the overall, which is likely considering his weakness in the time trials. He could lose minutes to Ullrich in the stage seven time trial, inspiring him to have a crack at the mountains prize and stage wins. His form is also better than last year, when he had a mediocre ride in the Tour de Suisse.
2005 runner-up Oscar Pereiro has not generated many headlines this year and may find himself with too heavy a workload protecting Alejandro Valverde. Other climbers, such as Jose Rubiera (Discovery) and Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile), who are on teams with aspirations of a high overall GC placing will also find themselves working for their GC man.
Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) skipped the Giro this year to concentrate on the Tour. The polka dot jersey may be one of his goals, if he is realistic about his slim chance of winning overall.
The yellow and polka dot competitions have become mutually exclusive prizes in recent years, highlighted by contrasting record of seven-time mountains winner Richard Virenque in the two competitions. Indeed, ex-sprinter Laurent Jalabert won the prize in 2001, six years after he won the sprinter's competition.
Past winners of the spotted jersey include Fausto Coppi, Federico Bahamontes (six times), Charly Gaul, Eddy Merckx, Lucien Van Impe (six times), Bernard Hinault, Luis Herrera, Claudio Chiappucci, Laurent Jalabert, and Richard Virenque. The latter has claimed the jersey a record seven times, but has now retired and the competition is wide open this year.
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