Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
If you had the choice of riding away from the Tour de France with either the green jersey on your back or a swag of stage wins under your belt, which would you choose?
Would you prefer to be Marcel Kittel or Peter Sagan?
Kittel visited the top step of the podium on four occasions this year, while Sagan claimed the green points jersey with consistent – but winless – riding.
I know which I would prefer – a stage win every time!
While Sagan will be pleased to have his name go down in the record books as the 2014 points winner, he is bound to be disappointed that he couldn’t snag a stage. The Slovakian showman came ever so close, with nine top-five finishes, including four second placings, but as they say in the classics, no one ever remembers who came second.
The only time Kittel featured in the top five was for each of his four victories, and yet you would get little argument about who had the better Tour. Despite Sagan smashing his nearest rival in the points competition by 149 points, there is a feeling that the Cannondale rider underachieved. No such sentiments exist about Kittel.
A stage win at the Tour is a powerful indication of a rider’s success. Win four in one go and you are fated as a cycling monolith. But finishing top five on numerous occasions without a win is a bit like a football team winning the minor premiership. Yep, it’s a great effort, but there is still unfinished business ahead. The job is not complete.
The ease with which Sagan won the green jersey didn’t do him any favours in the memorability stakes either. He was top five for the first seven stages and in that time amassed 259 of his eventual 431 points. Bryan Coquard was spirited in trying to provide some opposition to Sagan early on, but he was little more than nuisance value. The horse had already bolted.
And Sagan knew that he couldn’t be caught.
In the end he barely fought for the intermediate points on offer (the ones on the flat stages anyway) and was content to ride across the line in the minor places just to keep his points tally kicking over.
Such was his dominance that the whole battle for the green jersey became uninteresting.
This is not Sagan’s fault of course. He rode perfectly for the classification and it truly reflected who was the most consistent rider in the bike race, but perhaps it is time to tweak the rules once again, just to bring some life back into the contest.
Three years ago the organisers reduced the number of intermediate sprints to one, while at the same time dramatically increasing the number of points on offer. For a while it worked, as the sprinters and their teams actually treated it like a sprint. Their trains would begin organising a few kilometres out and the peloton would hit the last kilometre at top speed.
It was exciting stuff.
But who wants to waste that energy mid-race when somebody like Sagan has the competition stitched up just a third of the way into the Tour? Best to put the cue in the rack and wait for line honours at the end of the stage.
Perhaps we should go back to the old days when there were a couple of intermediate sprints but less points on offer? Would this bring Sagan back to the field and allow the pure sprinters a chance at once again donning themselves in green? With the majority of the points on offer for the finishing sprint, the benefits for riders such as Kittel – now a proven stage winner – are obvious.
But then again, should we be penalising Sagan just because he is better at racking up huge points tallies than anyone else? Probably not, but it would make for a closer, harder fought competition if we did, bringing in other, serious contenders.
It may just restore some of the prestige that seems to have ebbed away from the green jersey.
What do my fellow Roarers think?