The race for green is hotting up already at the Tour de France

Just six stages into the Tour and with no sprinter dominating the fast finishes, the green jersey competition already looks delicately poised between several candidates

Six days into the Tour de France, and the race for the green jersey is starting to take shape. While the bunch sprints themselves have been wide open, with a different sprinter triumphant in each bunch finish so far, there are three riders who have picked up points consistently enough in both the finishes and the intermediate sprints to be in leading contention for the points competition.

For now, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty) leads the pack with 139 points. The Eritrean started the Tour on fire, winning stage three to become the first black African ever to triumph at the Tour. He might have been further adrift in ninth place behind Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) yesterday, but that was enough to see him take the green jersey, and he extended his lead on Thursday with a third-place finish in Dijon. 

That performance on stage six was especially impressive from Girmay, as it involved him excelling in circumstances that don't necessarily play to his strength. The 24-year-old’s strength lies in his versatility rather than pure explosive sprinting speed, making him a great candidate for the points classification and stage wins from reduced group sprints or hillier stages, but not necessarily in pure sprints. Even his victory on stage three came in a field shed of many of the top sprinters due to a late crash. The fact he managed to gain third place, and very nearly win, such a pure sprint today suggests he’s upped his top-end sprinting speed, making him an even more formidable proposition as a green jersey contender. Having gone into the race sharing sprinting duties with Gerben Thijssen, the team ought now to unite behind him exclusively. 

Girmay said himself in a pre-stage interview that he’s more looking forward to sprints later in the race, singling out this weekend as a great opportunity for him. Saturday’s stage eight features much more rolling roads than the sprints so far, as well as a false flat to the finish, which are exactly the kind of terrain he flourishes in. He might even fancy his chances of being in contention for, and gaining some points, on the gravel roads of Sunday’s stage nine. It’s on these days that Girmay could really solidify his points classification lead.Tour de France 2024 stage six

The Tour sprints so far have been won by different riders (Photo: James Startt)

Last year’s winner Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) will not give up his title defence without a fight, however. He finished second place again today, having had to settle for the same position yesterday behind Mark Cavendish. Though that will come as a source of great frustration for the Belgian, especially considering just how used he got to winning at last year during his five-stage haul at the Tour, these results have at least demonstrated his consistency, which is paramount when it comes to the points classification. 

However, his green jersey chances took a significant hit after the stage, when he was relegated for dangerous spriting. Whereas he had been poised to move up to second place, just 21 points behind Girmay, he now instead finds himself down in fourth place on 85 points, 64 points adrift. 

Still, Philipsen certainly can’t be written off just yet. Things haven’t gone his way so far this Tour, but we all know how quick he can be, and if he can pull together one or two stage wins in the upcoming sprint finishes, he’ll be right back in contention. And though he has the speed of a pure sprinter, he’s also very versatile, which was partly how he managed to win last year’s points classification so comfortably. He’ll come under pressure from Girmay in the upcoming hillier stages, but has the talent in challenging terrain to combat him. 

Another rider who will prove a big headache to Philipsen, and a threat to Girmay’s current hold on green, is Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek). The Dane’s campaign for green — which he’s outlined is his main ambition at this Tour — got off to an excellent start, as first he gallantly hung on over the opening day hills to finish seventh on the stage, claiming points while all his green jersey rivals were dropped. Then he managed to avoid the crash on stage three, putting himself right in the mix with a fourth-place finish. 

Mads Pedersen Tour de France 2024

A crash was an unwelcome setback in Pedersen's quest for the green jersey (Photo: James Startt)

Things have started to unravel for Pedersen these last few days, however. While all eyes were on Cavendish as he sprinted for his historic win on Wednesday, further behind him in the bunch Pedersen crashed into the barriers. Not only did that deprive him of registering any points in that sprint, it clearly seemed to affect him on Thursday, as first he missed the split in the mid-stage crosswinds (circumstances he, as a Classics specialist, would usually excel in), then later he only managed 15th in the final sprint.

However, as one of the peloton’s grittiest riders, Pedersen won’t go down without a fight. Despite these setbacks, he still finds himself second place in the points classification, 38 points behind Girmay. We saw on stage four’s alpine visit how combative he is, when he tried to attack on the climbs to claim points from an intermediate sprint. That move was ultimately shut down when Mathieu van der Poel dragged back his leader Philipsen, as well as the rest of the peloton, in a move that showed just how the Dutchman’s use in Philipsen’s green jersey bid extends well beyond only his skills as a lead-out rider.

With three such quality riders in contention, we can expect similar exciting and bold moves to be made in future stages, as this burgeoning contest for the green jersey intensifies. 

Cover image by Billy Ceusters/ASO

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