Green Jersey Shakeup for Tour 2011

The Tour of Lombardy brought the 2010 racing season to an end on Saturday, and all of two days later our attention is already turning to 2011 with the unveiling of the Tour de France route. As it’s 100 years since the Alps were included in the Tour, the organisers have concocted a route which will come to an Alpine climax with three uninterrupted consecutive mountain stages. Although the route is paying homage to the route of 1911, the 2011 peloton will actually only ride over two of the seven Alpine mountains which were crested 100 years ago, the Col de Galibier and the Col de Télégraphe. In fact, the 2011 route and the 1911 route have more Pyrenéan climbs in common than Alpine, as both routes include the Col d’Aspet, Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque.

There will be no prologue time trial in 2011 but there will be a team time trial, albeit only 22km long. While there’s no individual time trial until the penultimate stage, with a modest distance of 41 kilometers. Since the individual time trial was first introduced to the Tour in 1934 there has been at least one, and as many as five, individual tests against the clock in every Tour de France. But the 2011 Tour will contain the least individual time trial kilometres in any of the editions since 1934.

It will be the first year since 1955 that there will be only one ITT on the menu. The Tour goes through very definite trends when it comes to the route details. For instance from 1991 until 2007 every Tour had either two or three ITTs comprising of around 100 kilometres in total. Between 1975 and 1985 there was either four or five individual time trials which made up about 150 kilometres of the route. In recent years, race director Christian Prudhomme seems to be whittling the number of time trial kilometres down to the bare minimum. Gone are the monster time trials of more than 85 kilometres such as in the 1987 Tour.

Nicolas Roche will be glad with the lack of time trial kilometres in the 2011 Tour de France

Including the team time trial, this year’s route contains a total of 64 kilometres against the clock. The only route containing less time trial kilometres than this year’s (since 1934 when there were no time trials), is last year, with 61 kilometres. The lack of time trial kilomtres should suit the Irish contingent. Daniel Martin, who should make his Tour debut in 2011, will relish the six summit finishes and he’ll also be part of one of the better team time trial squads. Nicolas Roche, who could be described as a competent time triallist, lost the largest part of his eventual five minute deficit in the Vuelta on just one stage, the time trial stage, whereas he performed wonderfully on the hardest mountain stages and has already expressed his satisfaction with next year’s route.

Aside from the time trial kilometres, one of the more interesting aspects of next year’s Tour will be the change in the rules of the Green Jersey competition. Gone from the route are the handful of intermediate sprints on each stage, next year there will only be one intermediate sprint per stage. But instead of the standard three points on offer at these sprints in the past, the winner of each intermediate sprint will be awarded 20 points. This changes the approach to the competition which a rider and his team must take in order to win the points classification. The new rules highlight the fact that the points competition is not, nor has it ever been, for the winner of the ‘who wins the most stages’ competition.

In a previous article on Irish Peloton, I wrote about how many stages the eventual winner of the Green Jersey won throughout the Tour. For the past twenty years, it has never been more than three. But how many times has the winner of the most stages in a Tour ended up taking the points classification? The answer is, not as many as you might think.

The points competition has been run every year since it’s inception in 1953. Of the 58 editions of the Tour since then, on ten occasions the outright winner of the most stages has also won the Green Jersey. Of those ten occasions, four of them can be accounted for by either Bernard Hinault or Eddy Merckx who won Green as a by-product of winning Yellow. So that leaves six editions where a sprinter in the Tour has won the most stages and took home the Green Jersey, Robbie McEwen (2006, 3 stages), Erik Zabel (1997, 3 stages), Freddy Maertens (1976, 8 Stages), Rik van Linden (1975, 3 stages), André Darrigade (1961, 4 stages) and Jean Gracyzk (1960, 4 stages).

In every other year, the points classification winner didn’t win the most stages of the Tour. Of course, in many of these years, the winner of the most stages was a climber or a rider battling for the overall classification but the point remains the same; winning the most stages doesn’t necessarily mean winning the Green Jersey. In fact, in 12 Tours, the eventual winner didn’t win any stages at all, with Sean Kelly accountable for three of those.

Thor Hushovd, winner of the Green Jersey in 2005 and 2009 will be aiming to become the first World Champion to win the Green Jersey at the Tour since Eddy Merckx in 1972. Although his new team mate Tyler Farrar may have something to say on the matter!

Mark Cavendish said before the 2010 Tour de France that “we have to win stages, and then the green jersey will come”. Although this plan didn’t work out for Cavendish, if he hadn’t been caught up in a crash on stage one, it very well might have borne fruit come Paris three weeks later. However, in 2011, things will not be so straight forward.

Usually, the intermediate sprint points are hoovered up by the break of the day, this is because the points on offer are of such relative insignificance that the team’s of the sprinters don’t bother wasting their energy chasing down attacks in order to keep the bunch together for these sprints. But with 20 points on offer halfway through the stage, we could see a break of the day going early only to be swept up before the intermediate sprint, then another break of the day going after the halfway point. Depending on which team chased down the first break, there could be arguments over who should chase down the second. The bunch will not be used to organising themselves for two sprints in a day and therefore, the new rules could lend itself to more breaks succeeding in the finale. Or indeed, the sprinter’s teams could decide that no breaks at all will eek out a number of minutes resulting in no ‘breaks of the day’.

The new rules certainly add a new level of intrigue to an already fascinating competition. With plenty of mountainous and transitional stages on the route, the Green Jersey contenders could include the type of rider who would normally target the King of the Mountains classification. The mountains prize in recent years has warped from being a competition for the climbers to a competition for the rider willing to participate in the most breakaways, Anthony Charteau, Christophe Rinero, Laurent Jalabert etc. With the polka dot jersey also changing to hopefully re-ignite the interest of the ‘proper’ climbers, the swashbuckling breakaway mongers could all defect to chasing the Green Jersey instead. The soundbite machine himself Mark Cavendish summed it up nicely in response to being asked whether he thinks the new rules will suit him or not:

“It might be brilliant, it might be awful.”

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