Another day, another cache of points towards the green jersey. The Tour de France is only a week old and already Bora-Hansgrohe talisman Peter Sagan's lead in the points classification is assuming familiar dimensions. Third place in Chalon-sur-Saône on stage 7, allied to another bundle of points in the intermediate sprint, was enough to see Sagan extend his lead in the competition to 56 points over Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
Sagan was a stage winner in Colmar two days previously after the hills that punctuated the finale left a reduced peloton to dispute the honours in the sprint. On Friday, he faced a full complement of fast men on the flat run-in to Chalon-sur-Saône, and he had to settle for third place behind winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal).
"Everybody knows I'm not as fast as them," Sagan said as he performed his tour of duty in the mixed zone after the stage.
No matter, Sagan's ability to keep his points column ticking over on all terrains continues unabated. He amassed another 33 points here and draws ever closer to a seventh green jersey in Paris, which would leave him with an outright hold on the record ahead of Erik Zabel. For context, Sagan has completed six of his seven Tours to this point, and carried green to the Champs-Élysées on each occasion.
Small wonder that Groenewegen, arguably the strongest pure sprinter in the race, was quick to downplay his prospects of challenging for the maillot vert. Before the points competition format was redrawn in 2011 – and, above all, before Sagan's Tour debut the following year – the points classification was largely the preserve of pure fast men.
Sagan's aptitude at finding points in the places the sprinters can't reach – the 'medium mountains' – means that the green jersey is virtually beyond the reach of men like Groenewegen. Perhaps only 2017 green jersey winner Michael Matthews (Sunweb) – currently fourth, 61 points down – has the characteristics to compete with Sagan for the title across three weeks.
"I think that Sagan is too strong," Groenewegen said when asked of his own green-jersey ambitions. His crash on stage 1 had perhaps already irretrievably compromised his chances – he is some 111 points down on Sagan in eighth place – although the Dutchman admitted that the green jersey had scarcely registered as a target even before the Tour began.
"He takes points in the mountain stages. He's an excellent rider, very combative, and even on the flat, it's very hard to beat him. I'm aiming for stage wins. For the green jersey, Sagan is too far ahead," said Groenewegen.
Sagan, for his part, sprinted perhaps in hope as much as expectation in Chalon-sur-Saône, but mindful that the points accrued would help to buttress his advantage atop the standings. The Slovakian has placed in the top five in five out of the Tour's seven stages to this point.
"I was just sitting on Groenewegen's wheel," Sagan said. "After Dylan came right, I went on Elia Viviani's wheel. When Elia started his sprint, I started to sprint as well, but Groenewegen and Ewan were faster than me, and I was third. This was a really fast sprint, but I'm still happy."
Saturday's eighth stage takes in some 4,000 metres of total climbing on a rolling run through the foothills of the Massif Central to Saint-Étienne, where Sagan placed second behind Alexander Kristoff in 2014. It's the kind of day that offers Sagan a further opportunity to gain points on the pure sprinters, and the finish outside the Stade Geoffroy Guichard – home of the AS Saint-Étienne football club, nicknamed Les Verts – might be an omen for the 29-year-old.