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Who Will Win the Škoda Green Jersey at La Vuelta?

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

We’re in for a surprise. The organizers of La Vuelta have changed the way points are awarded to stage winners. This was clearly done to give sprinters a better chance of winning the Škoda Green Jersey in a race famous for its many mountain stages and summit finishes.

And this year’s course is no different, with no fewer than eight summit finishes in its 21 stages and a total of 12 medium mountain or mountain stages, compared to a mere six flat stages (one of which, stage 11, is actually medium hilly rather than flat). So you’d need to be a rider like the winner of the Škoda Green Jersey in the Tour de France, Wout van Aert – adept at sprinting as well as climbing – to win the Vuelta points classification under the old points system.

For example, Alejandro Valverde has won the Vuelta green jersey four times, as did French puncheur Laurent Jalabert. Chris Froome won the Vuelta green jersey in 2017 and Primož Roglič won it twice, while also winning the GC those years. Of course, sprinters have also had their share of green-jersey success in the race, with three victories for Erik Zabel and Fabio Jakobsen winning it last year, the first sprinter in seven years to capture the points classification title. The new points system is now similar to that of the Tour, with 50 points awarded to the winner of a flat stage, 30 points for winning a medium-mountain or hilly stage and 20 points for those who finish first in a mountain stage.

That changes everything. Or does it? Some of the problems for the pure sprinters in the Vuelta remain the same, such as making it over the mountains within the time limit and crossing the finish line in Madrid. Another issue is that – as anyone who saw this year’s Tour de France can testify – Grand Tour racing has become much faster, with breakaways in every stage, so that there are no “safe” mass sprint stages anymore. And, finally, in addition to the eight summit finishes, the race includes six medium-mountain and hilly stages perfectly suited for a puncheur like Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) – which suggests to me that a rider like the French two-time world champion may have the best shot at winning the Škoda Green Jersey if he has fully recovered from the injuries he suffered in a horrific crash in the Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

That race was won by his teammate Remco Evenepoel who will be leading a strong team in his attempt to prove that he is a true Grand Tour rider. The 22-year-old Belgian has trained intensively for the Vuelta, in the company of countryman Mathieu van der Poel. He is an outsider for the GC but he has the racing profile to do well enough in the mountains and maybe take a medium-mountain stage or two to win the green jersey.

For the reasons that argue against sprinters in this Vuelta, enumerated above, I still like Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič to win the green jersey, assuming that he has totally recovered from the back injury that forced him out of the Tour de France. The reasons are clear: Roglič has won the last three Vuelta GC competitions as well as the green jersey in 2019 and 2020, and Jumbo-Visma is currently the best team in the world.

Other climbers with green-jersey chances are Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), who finished second in the 2020 Vuelta and was leading in this year’s Giro d’Italia GC before being passed in the penultimate stage by another promising green-jersey candidate, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Jai Hindley.

Bora-Hansgrohe actually have two viable green-jersey candidates, Giro winner Hindley and sprinter Sam Bennett, who won the 2020 Tour de France Škoda Green Jersey and has the formidable Danny van Poppel as lead-out. Bennett finished fifth in Sunday’s European Road Race Championships, which signalled a return to form for the Irishman after a series of niggling injuries. However, like all the other pure sprinters in the race, he will have to be strong enough to make it to Madrid. Not an easy task on this course.

This goes as well for Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen, the highest-ranked sprinter in the race and the 2019 World Champion. But he has no Grand Tour laurels to speak of and is riding in his first Vuelta.

Significantly, last year’s green jersey winner – and this year’s European road race champion – Fabio Jakobsen has not been entered in the Vuelta. Actually, his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team does not appear to have a bona fide sprinter riding in the race. In fact, if you go through the entire Vuelta start list, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a half-dozen. This suggests that, regardless of the change in the Vuelta points system, most teams seem to believe that this edition of the race still does not suit sprinters.