The green edge

The green edge

MATT Goss has long been flagged as a Tour de France green jersey contender this year.

But on the eve of the 3497-kilometre race, which started last night in Belgium, the Australian admitted the task had become much tougher in light of the devastating form of Slovakian Peter Sagan.

Goss, the sprinting trump card for Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE, is not conceding defeat in the battle for the green jersey, the prize for the points competition. But Sagan’s recent form has been so devastating that Goss’ rating of the Tour rookie as the green jersey favourite makes sense. Yet his opinion contradicts that of his team sports director, Matt White, who believes Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) will lack the experience and team support to win the jersey, as Liquigas-Cannondale’s priority is to help Italian teammate Vincenzo Nibali win the Tour overall.

This year Sagan, 22, has won 13 races: he won five stages at the Tour of California and another four at the recent Tour of Switzerland. Not only can Sagan sprint, he can also climb, which will help him accrue points in the daily intermediate sprint as well as at the stage finish.

Goss, 25, has had one win this year – stage three of the Giro d’Italia – and is also one of the best climbers among the sprinters. But Sagan is better.

”We have a more dedicated team for the sprints, to try and win points and try and win sprint stages, but Sagan can genuinely do a lot by himself as well,” Goss told The Sunday Age before last night’s 6.4-kilometre prologue time trial in Liege. ”He is still one of the favourites to win the green jersey. He is going to be very difficult to beat.”

But for Goss, the Tour is not just about getting the better of Sagan, who is fancied for tonight’s 198-kilometre first stage from Liege to Seraing, which has an uphill finish.

In any sprint, Goss must also account for a top-class field of sprinters that includes British world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky), German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Australian Mark Renshaw (Rabobank), American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD). It will be in the flatter bunch sprints that Goss believes Sagan will be most vulnerable. ”In a big bunch sprint he might suffer a little, because he is not going to have a lead-out train,” Goss said.

”He is going to have to fight with the others. There are a lot of good sprinters and if he is fighting with a lot of good sprinters every day … I’m not saying he can’t win a bunch sprint, he might hold.

”But I think his best chances on days like stages one and three [197 kilometres from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer on Tuesday] where there are uphill finishes.”

Goss knows that if he falls short in his bid for the green jersey, it will nonetheless provide valuable experience for future tilts. ”I’m still going to give it a crack … It took Cavendish three or four years to win the green jersey. So I am going to try, just for the experience. If I did win it, it would be a dream come true.”

As for Cavendish, Goss is unsure, like many, whether the Briton will finish the Tour, or finish early to prepare for the Olympic road race. Goss said: ”My guess is as good as anyone’s. He finished the Giro [d’Italia]. That makes me think he might finish the Tour a little earlier. He’s not going for the green jersey but if he wins five stages and leads by 50 points I can’t see him sitting up to go home.”

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