July 14, 2012 by Irish Peloton
Debut Winners – Green Jersey
Peter Sagan has won three stages so far in this year’s Tour de France and with a 56 point lead in the points competition it looks like he may take home the green jersey too. Aged just 22, it is one of the most impressive debuts in the history of the race.
When the Slovakian won the second stage into Seraing he became the youngest Tour de France stage winner since a 21 year-old Lance Armstrong won in Verdun in 1993. Although since then Thibaut Pinot has taken over that title from Sagan.
Sagan’s first two stage wins this year were uphill sprints, the type of stage finishes which Philippe Gilbert would have won in his sleep last year. But while the Belgian remains without a win since last September, Sagan has taken over as the king of the tough sprint finish. But as he proved on Stage Six, Sagan can also win in a more orthodox bunch finish.
It is this ability to be competitive on a number of sprints which makes it likely that he will ultimately win the green jersey. Sagan can stay very close to the likes of Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish on the flat out sprints, but on the uphill finishes, Greipel and Cavendish can;t touch him. The only other rider with a similar skill set to Sagan seems to be Matt Goss, and it’s no surprise that the Australian is emerging as Sagan’s closest challenger this year.
If Sagan maintains his lead over Goss all the way to Paris, he will win the green jersey on his debut in the race. This is a feat which has not been done since Olaf Ludwig managed it in 1990. However, there is a major difference between Peter Sagan and Olaf Ludwig. When the German sprinter made his debut in the Tour de France, he was 30 years old.
Ludwig had an incredibly successful amateur career. He won the Peace Race twice, perhaps the most prestigious amateur race around, and also won 36 stages altogether of this race. He won the Tour de l’Avenir in 1983, along the way he won the prologue, two sprint stages, the team time trial and the individual time trial. Most famously of all, he won the Olympic road race in 1988 when it was still only open to amateur cyclists.
He only turned professional, joining the Panasonic team in 1990, after the Berlin wall fell. Having won stages of the Tour de Trump, Ruta del Sol and the Three Days of De Panne, he was given the opportunity to ride the Tour de France in his first year as a professional. On the first road stage he won the bunch sprint for seventh place behind a breakaway, and importantly, finished just ahead of his team-mate Jean-Paul van Poppel. As a former world team time trial champion, Ludwig was no stranger to the discipline, and he played a significant role in his Panasonic team taking the win on the afternoon stage later that day.
Ludwig would remain amongst the high places in the bunch sprints before the next few days before he finally won Stage Eight into Besancon pipping Johan Museeuw on the line. Ludwig remained consistent for the remainder of the Tour and won the green jersey on the Champs Elysees, again beating Museeuw into second place in the points classification, although it was the Belgian who was triumphant on the final stage. Ludwig would go on to beat four time green jersey winner Sean Kelly in a sprint in the Tour of Ireland in Dublin later that year.
Ludwig’s feat in winning the green jersey in 1990 is made even more impressive due to the fact that two of his team mates were recent former winners of the jersey – Van Poppel (1987 – this was also his debut Tour) and Eddy Planckaert (1988). To establish himself as the main sprinter of the team in such illustrious company was a remarkable feat indeed.
Peter Sagan has no such trouble with wrangling sprinting responsiblity from within his own team, although he is sharing leadership of Liquigas with Vincenzo Nibali who is currently third overall. The fact that Sagan is 22, eight years younger than Ludwig was in 1990, perhaps makes it the most impressive display of sprinting from a Tour debutante since Freddy Maertens won eight stages and the green jersey on his Tour debut in 1976.