Former green jersey record holder Erik Zabel has said that he feels 'honoured' that his long-standing record of six victories in the points classification at the Tour de France has now been broken by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Sagan claimed a seventh green jersey on Sunday, capping a superb Tour for Bora-Hansgrohe, who also garnered a fourth place overall with Emanuel Buchmann and a stage win for Sagan in the first week.
"Honestly, there’s nothing I can do about this situation and, in any case, I can’t imagine a better new record holder than Peter Sagan," Zabel told Cyclingnews.
"If you look back at the last decade of pro cycling, I think Peter has been the best all-rounder. So losing a record to him... it’s not so painful to be second behind him; it’s more an honour."
Zabel took the Tour’s green jersey for six years on the trot between 1996 and 2001, as well as the Vuelta a España’s equivalent title from 2002 to 2004, but his achievements were overshadowed by a subsequent confession of doping for part of his career.
"Honestly, I was ready to give the record over to him two years ago, and then Peter was expelled for whatever reasons, but I think we all agree he would have won that year. He’d have eight by now,” Zabel said.
"There is this old saying that ‘records are there to be beaten’. But it’s always a different story if it comes down to your record, you maybe think twice about that."
Present on the Tour this year, Zabel told Cyclingnews he had been following the green jersey competition closely.
"Sagan was by far the most consistent. His closest main rivals were Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), but Wout didn’t make it to the end," Zabel said. "In any case, he was a little bit tied up by the team’s overall strategy, doing lead-outs for Dylan Groenewegen instead of going purely for the jersey.
"Honestly, I don’t know what Michael Matthews’ strategy was. Sometimes he was going for intermediate sprints, sometimes he wasn’t. Then he led out Cees Bol another day. If Sagan's main rivals are riding like this, it’s also not so difficult. But he is by far the best anyway
"The way he raced was just amazing. Apart from being there in the bunch sprints, in the intermediate sprints, in the breakaways, he was never on his limits. Either that, or the other riders weren’t forcing him to the limit. Peter was always in control of this competition, so for sure he is a deserving winner of the green jersey."
As for whether the Tour should change the rules to try to render the green jersey more exciting or to make the competition ‘Sagan-proof’, Zabel argues that it would be pointless.
"Put simply: whatever rules you use, as far as I can see, he would have won anyway," Zabel said. "Because he’s simply the best."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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