The battle for the other jerseys in the Tour de France are as keenly fought as the battle for the yellow jersey, with the sprinters jersey and the KOM jersey two of the most famous and iconic in all of cycling.
The points classification is the third oldest of the currently awarded jersey classifications. Introduced in the 1953 Tour de France to draw the participation of the sprinters as well as celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tour. Although the best climber of the TDF was first recognized in 1933, the distinctive polka dot jersey was not introduced until 1975 when Lucien Van Impe took it home.
Green Jersey Competition
The Green Jersey is awarded to the best sprinter in the race, and points are awarded not just for where they finish on the stages (50pts for 1st on a flat stage) but also at ‘Intermediate sprints’ during the race. The Flat stages are 2,4,6,7,10,11,19,21 - so there are a lot of 'Flat Stages' this year, eight in total, with half of them coming in the first 7 stages. This means that a strong sprinter could well be throwing it up to Sagan this year by the end of the first week.
Someone like Kittel, Bouhanni or Démare could have taken a number of stages and may well have the jersey on their shoulders, pushing them on to get more at intermediate sprints etc, which again will be very important this year.
Peter Sagan looks like he only has to stay upright to take a record-equalling sixth green jersey, drawing level with the great German sprint Eric Zabel, but will face strong competition in the flatter sprints from Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Arnaud Demare, Michael Matthews, Mark Cavendish and Nacer Bouhanni.
This could have been a very short preview, I literally could type "Sagan wins" and be done with it. It's a formality barring an accident. It really is. At odds of 4/7 you're basically betting that there is a 64% chance that he will complete the course, and you'd have to think based on that, he is still value at 4/7... If he stays upright he wins - is there a 36% chance of him getting sick or crashing? I'd say it's probably closer to 10-20%, so his price should possibly be closer to 1/4..
Winner of two stages and the Green in Tirreno, 2nd in Milan-San Remo, a stage and the points in California, two stages and the Green in the Tour de Suisse.. He has been phenomenal again this season, and after seemingly taking the first stage to get warmed up in the TDS he destroyed the rest of them in the two sprints he won, he turned on the after-burners and was gone and no-one could catch him. He won the 5th stage doing a hula dance!
Marcel Kittel finished 242 points behind Sagan last year, but will surely be closer this year. He will probably win a few stages, maybe even 3 or 4 - there are possibly up to 8 stages which could end in a sprint - with the race starting in Dusseldorf and the ASO trying to build bridges with German broadcasters, it looks like they may even have tried to shape a route that might tilt the balance back a little in Kittel's favour.
He has seven wins to his name this season, including the Scheldeprijs, and he recently duelled with Sagan in California, taking the first sprint with Sagan in 2nd, but Sagan took stage 3 with Kittel only down in 12th. If anyone is going to run Sagan close, it's probably going to be Kittel, and I think there is less chance of him not finishing this year as the route doesn't look as brutal. He should win a number of stages, he could even be coming to the Champs Élysées on the final day in with a shout of taking the Green Jersey, but I'm not sure the gap will be tight enough for him to take it off Sagan.
André Greipel hasn't had a great season by his standards, with only four race wins this year, with the only decent wins being his stage win in the Giro and the stage in Paris-Nice. Besides that it's been a lot of disappointing and frustrating results for him and his team. Both he and the Lotto leadout just don't seem to be clicking and all too often he is out of the equation far too soon in the sprint and left with too much to do.
But it's not like he doesn't have the speed, he showed that in his win in the Paris-Nice stage, most of the best sprinters in the world were behind him.. I think he's missing something this year though, I think the team are missing something this year, and you can't be missing something when it comes to sprints in the TDF.. I think he'll finish 3rd or 4th again, but should continue his amazing record of winning a stage in every Grand Tour he's entered.
Maybe Arnaud Démare could be the one to put it up to Sagan? He's obviously not quite in the same league as Sagan, but he has a similar style to him in that he can get over some of the lumpier days when other sprinters are left by the wayside. He also doesn't mind an uphill finish too as we saw in the first stage of Paris-Nice this year too when he burst away with Alaphilippe and took a fine stage win
He has 7 wins to his name this year, including wins in Paris-Nice, 4 days of Dunkerque and just a few weeks ago in the Dauphiné. And just a week ago he won the Halle-Ingooigem in Belgium and took the French National Championships with a powerful (if a bit wayward) sprint from Bouhanni.
I think he could actually do really well in this year's Tour, he's in great form, full of confidence, and there are a number of stages where he should do well on, and the FDJ leadout has been looking very impressive in some of the recent races.
Michael Matthews has had a mixed year again, with only two wins to his name this season, one being in the Pais Vasco, where he beat no-one of note really, and the second was in TDS where he got the better of Sagan on stage 3. In the other stages Sagan easily disposed of him, with Matthews finishing down in 6th twice. He just didn't look anywhere near being good enough to me to be taking stage wins at the Tour.
He doesn't look in great shape to me this year and I can't see him challenging for this jersey this year. He may not even win any stages, Sagan, Kittel, Démare and Griepel are all better than him I think. Sagan should win this, and if you have deep pockets and don’t mind taking short prices, he’s the bet of the race. But instead, I’m going to recommend a small e/w bet on Arnaud Démare at 12/1, he should be involved in a lot of stage finishes and some of our stage picks.
King of the Mountains Competition
The King of the Mountains (KOM) competition will be the usual mine-field to try to predict, but I expect two-time winner Rafal Majka to be battling it out with Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland.
Thibaut Pinot - This is an interesting choice for favourite for the TDF, but this is a direct result of Pinot saying earlier in the season that he was going to forget all about any GC hopes in the TDF and just go for stages and the KOM title.
He rode very well in the Giro this year, taking 4th in the GC, but that was only good enough for 4th in the KOM competition. It sort of makes sense though to see him try his luck at the KOM comp here, he has had a tough Giro in his legs, but was climbing really well. If he can cherry-pick the right stages in this race and deliberately slips down the GC early on to allow himself some freedom, he might be able to go on the attack, while not needing to bury himself day after day.
Rafal Majka - this man knows how to win this prize, having taken it in 2014 and 2016, but was well off the pace in 2015 when it became a GC battle, with Froome, Quintana and Bardet the top 3 in the KOM competition. It looks like it will be different this year, with lots of points out on the road for the taking by the break.
Majka to me looks to be the perfect candidate for this competition this year. He is climbing really well, just took the overall at the Tour of Slovenia with a strong ride on the Queen stage when he was just toying with his rivals at the finish. He is an expert at getting in the right breaks on the right days and knows how to drop guys and finish off stages.
Pierre Rolland - When he won the stage in the Giro, people were having to go to the history books to find the last time he won a race, and almost everybody was delighted with his victory, most of all the Cannondale team who have supported him and pushed him to better things.
He is sure to be regularly on the attack again like he was in the Giro, he showed in the Route du Sud. that he has come out of the Giro with great legs, winning a great stage solo and only just being pipped to the KOM title by 4pts by Silvan Dillier who was on fire in the race. He can be hit and miss though, and I've just got a sneaking feeling now that Rolland might just focus on a stage victory and time his run to perfection, rather than go for the jersey.. I'm thinking stage 12 to Peyragudes or stage 13 on Bastille day are two he will have his eye on..
Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana - I am grouping these two together because they are both the same price, and they both have very similar chances in this competition. Unless one of them loses a tonne of time on, or before stage 5 to La Planche, then they are unlikely to target going for this jersey, but instead focus on a top 10, or even top 6 finish. They may go on the attack some stages, but I think like last year, the points will be spread around the GC men, when they do score points and I don't think they'll get enough to trouble the top 3 here.
Fabio Aru - Could Aru have a shot at this jersey? Of course he could, he's a very good climber and appears to be in very good shape. If Fuglsang pulls rank in the GC leadership battle, then Aru might get the freedom to go up the road and attack. This could see him win a stage or two, or at least take a lot of points on some of the key mountain stages.
He won the Italian road race title last week with a superb performance to beat Ulissi and Nocentini by 41". It all depends again on what his ambitions are though, he's not gone for a KOM prize before, it would be a big shift for him to be constantly trying to get in breaks rather than sitting with the GC men, and I think he might just stay put and try attacking late in stages instead. But that probably won't win him the KOM prize..
Outsiders and longshots
And then you have a whole bunch of other guys who could have their eyes on this prize rather than wanting to kill themselves for 12th on the GC - guys like Esteban Chaves, Darwin Atapuma, Dan Martin, Robert Gesink, Diego Ulissi, Dani Navarro and Mikel Landa. But who out of that lot, could take it? It's a pure lottery.. anyone could come out of the woodwork and try early on and then try to hang on to it. Depending on how the GC battle is going they may well get to slip away early in the race and keep attacking, but the likes of Landa and Atapuma might be asked to help their team-mates.
I think the jersey is going to be a battle between Pinot (he has to at least try to follow through on his promise, or was he just bluffing?!), former winner Rafal Majka and former wearer Pierre Rolland, with possibly the likes of Darwin Atapuma or Fabio Aru having a crack too. I think Rolland might just go stage hunting, something that was hinted at today in their press release too. So, it points to Pinot Vs Majka, and at the prices I'd rather be on Majka at twice Pinot's price.
White Jersey Competition
And the White Jersey competition for the best young rider should be good this year too, with Louis Meintjes, Emanuel Buchmann, Simon Yates, Pierre Latour, Jasha Sutterlin and Alberto Bettiol set to battle it out, with Simon Yates going for two in a row in the competition for the Yates family, after Adam took it in 2016.
I’m going to plump for little Louis Meintjes though to take the prize, he was second in this competition last year to Adam Yates and they were miles clear of the third placed rider Emanuel Buchman who is also going to be a key player in this race. Simon Yates could get involved too, but I think Yates has more of a chance of blowing up in the third week and I think Meintjes has the form this year to finish in the top 10 and that should be good enough to win the Young Riders classification. He’s short (pardon the pun) at just 6/5 betting odds, but he’s one of my top bets for the 2017 Tour de France.