• Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) inches closer to taking home the green jersey in Paris (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
While it may have looked like Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) had the green jersey for the best sprinter in the bag, Mark Cavendish’s (Dimension Data) fourth stage win signals that the battle is far from over.
Cycling Central

17 Jul 2016 - 9:43 AM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2016 - 9:50 AM

After the first 14 stages of the 2016 Tour de France, Sagan has amassed 340 points in the sprinters’ competition and leads the race for the green jersey by 62 points over the Manx Missile. Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) sits third, another 50 points behind Cavendish.

While there has been speculation about whether or not Cavendish will leave the Tour prematurely to focus on his preparation for the track at the Rio Olympics, he has declared that, given his current form, he is in no hurry to go home early. It's not only more stage wins up for grabs for the 31-year-old, but the green jersey as well.

Sagan, who finished third to Cavendish in last night’s stage, knows that he needs to take as many points as possible in the intermediate sprints, particularly in some of the hillier stages to come, if he wants to hold on to his lead in the battle for green.

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Sagan happy to limit his losses in Stage 14

The whole peloton was watching Sagan in Stage 14, after the world champion had stolen the win from the sprinters on Stage 11. With a little over 60km to go came the intermediate sprint. While the breakaway took the bulk of the points, it was Sagan who surged ahead to take the first points of the bunch, adding to his tally in the green jersey standings.

It was a tough run in to the finish with some late bends to test the sprinters, with the final turn a right-hander that saw teams fighting hard to hold position. While Cavendish appeared to be in a class of his own, Sagan also came from a long way back, where he had been slowed by the other teams’ sprint train riders dropping off.

The Slovak took third on the line after a huge effort. His top three finish saw him limit the points difference to those chasing him in the maillot vert campaign.

Speaking from the stage finish, Sagan was pleased to have kept hold of the green jersey. “Today was a bit of risky sprint,” he said.

“It was into a headwind and a lot of riders wanted to be at the front and sit in the wheels. I started from far back and slowly came up to third place. I lost a few points but there are a lot of climbing stages where I hope to take some points. Today for the green jersey it was about losing the fewest points possible.”

Cav credits track training for tactical nous

For Cavendish, his fourth win of the Tour marks a return to the physical and mental edge that saw him take 20 Tour de France stage victories between 2008 and 2011.

"A lot of people ask what the difference this year, with the track, and to be fair it is the track but it's not really what people think," he said in a post-stage press conference.

"It's not that I've got more leg speed or strength. I'm exactly the same physically as I have been in the last years. But it's just that you kind of refresh your racing nous when riding the track.

“You learn to be patient, to assess situations really quickly, and that's been part of the advantage this year. I've been a lot more patient than I was last year.”

Cavendish expertly read the situation as it unfolded in front of him, taking into account the wind, the actions of the other teams, and Kittel’s own sprinting style and abilities. The Manxman timed his sprint to perfection.

"What you saw today, it's normally instinct to jump when the person in front of you jumps. I knew Marcel would be on the front early, I assessed it with 2km to go, they had four guys and that's not enough into a headwind.

“In fact his team did a really good job, (Fabio) Sabatini did more than I thought he would, but Kittel ultimately spent too long on the front and it was a case of waiting until he lost his peak speed and jumping round him in the final."

In the race for the green jersey 50 points are on offer for a victory on a flat stage, compared with 30 points for a stage victory for a “medium mountain” stage or hilly finish. The maximum points for an intermediate sprint is 20.  All three scenarios offer reduced points on a sliding scale for the first 15 riders.

With only 62 points separating Sagan and Cavendish after last night’s stage, and another week of racing until the Tour concludes, the battle for green will see the current and former world champions drawing on very different tactics and strengths to wear the jersey after the final stage in Paris.

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