Changes to the green jersey competition may have been made with Mark Cavendish in mind, but it's the Manxman's HTC-Highroad teammate Matt Goss who could really be given the chance to shine in his debut Tour de France.
Goss' 2011 season has been exceptional to say the least, with stage wins in every stage race he's competed in up until the Tour de Suisse earlier this month, where he managed a second place to Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) on the penultimate stage. Then of course there was that win at Milan-San Remo where the 24-year-old became the first Australian to do so.
A start in the Tour de France had long been on the cards, but even Goss admits there was some relief when he got confirmation of his start from directeur sportif Rolf Aldag.
"Until you get that final phone call, especially for someone like myself who hasn't been before, you're always thinking what if something changes, but it's definitely good to get that in writing now," he told Cyclingnews.
"Maybe it's a little bit of relief but I had confidence that I'd been going well and that there's a lot of stages at this year's Tour de France that will suit my style. Now it's all excitement to get there and to see what the big show's all about and to experience it."
Whereas a lot of riders take on their first Tour with an eye to experience, Goss heads to the Passage du Gois with lofty ambitions for both his teammates and himself. With his rapidly growing palmares, there's a certain pressure in his appearance, but it's something Goss is comfortable with and relaxed about.
Riding back into race form
Following his hot run in the earlier part of the season, Goss took a break following Paris-Roubaix which included 10 days off the bike to "shut it down" heading into the Tour of California. While he didn't have any real expectations for the US WorldTour race, he did walk away with victory in Thousand Oaks after a run of bad luck, but it was more about building up his form heading into the Tour de Suisse.
Once back in Europe, Goss was satisfied with his performance putting it all down to a learning experience. The nine days of the Tour de Suisse were spent building back up his racing intensity that goes astray with two months of down time and Goss feels that towards the end, he was heading in the right direction.
"When you're racing for a fair amount of time you really learn how to suffer and how to hurt for a longer amount of time and when you have a break, you lose that," he explained. "Switzerland was a really hard race and exactly what I needed."
Opportunities for the fast men in Switzerland were minimal, and Goss had been riding in support of Cavendish. By the time his own chance came on the 8th stage, the Tasmanian was feeling good only to lose a bit of position coming around the last bend.
"It would have been a nice thing to keep going, especially coming into the Tour, but I'm not stressed about it," Goss said of his winning streak. "The one opportunity I got I came second, that's the way it goes sometimes."
Eyes on the prize
In Goss you have someone free of pretensions, but at the same time, he's not afraid to back himself. So it comes as little surprise that he's confident in coming away from the opening days of his Tour debut "with a jersey, whether it be yellow or green or white."
It's likely that Mark Renshaw will remain the final link in the HTC-Highroad lead-out before Cavendish attempts to add to his 15 Tour de France stage wins, but Goss admits that even he's not sure how bunch sprints will play out for arguably the best team in the business.
"[At the Tour] Down Under I had Renshaw and Cav' in front of me but we've never had all three of us lurk in the one race where there's going to be a lead-out so it's going to be a bit different," he explained. "I think Renshaw's proven he's the man to help out Cavendish but it's just a matter if I go in front or behind."
Goss will target the lumpy stages or those with slightly uphill finishes where it won't come down to a pure bunch sprint. The opening stage from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes is one of those and stages four (Lorient- Mûr-de-Bretagne) and six (Dian-Lisieux) are other opportunities.
The 2011 Milan–San Remo winner is in two minds about the battle between the puncheurs which could unfold en route to Mûr-de-Bretagne.
The new points system means that the fast men will contest just one intermediate sprint where 20 points are up for grabs for the first rider over the line, and the next 15 riders will also take points. At the finish, stage victories are now worth 45 points.
"It favours the guys like [Philippe] Gilbert or even [Thor] Hushovd who can get over the climbs in a mountains day or in a lumpy day and pick up 20 points in a bonus sprint – at the end of the day that's a lot of points in a middle of a stage," said Goss.
"It's going to be a lot more tactical race and you're going to have to be careful of who goes in each group at the start of the race. I think the sprinters are almost going to have almost two sprints a day."
The tactics that will eventuate with the new system are anyone's guess days out from the Grand Depart. To be risk averse or aggressive? Either way, Goss believes that the HTC-Highroad team are just the right men for the job.
"It's a good thing – we've got me and Cavendish and if it works out that way I can do the intermediates and Cavendish can do the final sprint," he said. "If I can keep picking up points that makes it dangerous for the other sprinters where they might have to do both and we can do one each."
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