Prior to the 2016 Tour De France, I wrote an article looking back at the individual stages of the 2015 Tour, highlighting how infrequently the market favourite for each stage crossed the line first.
Twenty-one gruelling and varied stages will undoubtedly see the cream rise to the top, but for individual stages it was proved again that there are so many factors at play that everything is up for grabs. From the twenty individual stages in the race, the market favourite was victorious just twice.
That logic was proved correct again in 2016, where laying the favourite for each stage at the average price matched on Betfair would have yielded a level-stakes profit:
However, there are a few reasons why I am not advocating using the same approach this year. Marcel Kittel was made favourite for six stages in 2016 and lost all of them. Whilst I note with interest that he is currently priced around about an even-money favourite for the first sprint stage of 2017 (Stage 2) – I don’t think that if he gets beat, the market will continue to support him so doggedly as they did in 2016. The Kittel aberration aside, the money wasn’t usually far wrong, with twelve of the twenty-one stage winners coming from the first three in the market. Indeed, favourite-layers had a couple of near-misses with Cummings and Froome both winning stages as narrow second-favourites at double-figure prices.
The second reason is the profile of the 2017 race. There are potentially nine stages where we could end up with a sprint finish and with doubts about pretty much all of the sprinter’s form, I could easily see sprint stage favourites going off at prices well north of 2/1 (3.00). Similarly, the lack of mountain top finishes elsewhere in the route makes it prime for breakaway success. Whilst this adds to the uncertainty of outcome, layers are not going to be able to cop for many favourites winning before a level-stakes bank is wiped out. In short – whilst I like this approach in general – it just feels too volatile to recommend this year. We will see.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an interesting angle to all of those sprint stages. The interest – as so often – comes from Peter Sagan. The Slovak is a best priced 1/2 (1.50) to retain his Green Jersey and whilst few would bet against him, I personally feel that it is going to require a subtly different approach from him this year. There are only two of the twenty-one stages that scream Sagan to me, the short brutal uphill finishes of Stage 3 and Stage 14. The other seven “sprint” stages are pan flat. Whilst Sagan may also target a sprint from a reduced bunch into Le Puy-en-Velay, I’m not sure that just these stages, plus his usual tactic of hoovering up intermediate sprint points will be enough, particularly with other contenders for the jersey – namely John Degenkolb – likely to be doing the same.
Of course Sagan also traditionally accumulates points by finishing relatively high up the standings in the bunch sprints. My suggestion is that he will need to do even better this year; and I think that he will.
If you consider the likely candidates to win an all-out, high-speed bunch sprint on a flat road then three names come to mind: Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel. However this year – for me – those names don’t conjure the same admiration/fear. Kittel might have started the season smashing up Dubai again, but unlike last year, he is not coming into the Tour with race-winning form from the Giro or Romandie. Cavendish has everything to prove in terms of his recovery from Glandular Fever. Greipel, whilst remaining impressive, is now thirty-five years old.
The market is also likely to want to factor the next generation/level of sprinters in to the reckoning: Arnaud Demare, Dylan Groenewegen, Nacer Bouhanni and possibly even Dan McLay. Being frank, I’m not sure that they are elite level sprinters. At least not yet.
Despite his reputation as a superstar/classic winning/strongman/world champion rouleur, I’m not sure everyone would consider Sagan an elite-level bunch sprinter. I think this could be the race where people change their minds and add that to his repertoire.
In 2017, whilst not often facing the names listed above, he has had plenty of success in bunch finishes. At the Tour De Suisse his two wins came on the flat and in fact he was beaten by Michael Matthews in the one punchy finish. He was quicker than the likes of Sacha Modolo, Matteo Trentin and Niccolo Bonifazio. In California he won, out-sprinting Rick Zabel. In one sprint stage at Tirreno-Adriatico he beat Elia Viviani (and others includuing Modolo), in the other he was narrowly defeated only by Fernando Gaviria (and we saw in the Giro the form that the Columbian was in).
Pro Cycling Stats have Sagan as the number one ranked Sprinter in the world. According to Velon, of the eleven bunch sprints that Sagan has contested this season he has won four (the joint-highest percentage of any of his rivals) and has finished on the podium in ten. A staggering 91% of the time.
For me, throw in the fact that Sagan can also do something special as in Stage 11 of last year’s Tour:
Then consider that his bike handling skills mean that you would not want your money to be on anyone else if there are incidents on the road. Add his sprinting form to the doubts about his rivals, and I’m going to be confident in backing him to win the true sprinter stages, especially at the likely each-way prices. Each-way brings the podium into play and I’m sure that will continue to be his domain in this Tour. If any of that sounds ridiculous, at least unlike Bruce Millington at the Racing Post, I haven’t backed him for the Yellow Jersey!
Consider backing Peter Sagan each-way for Stages 2,3,4,6,7,10,11,14,19 and 21
At the time of writing Peter Sagan is best-priced 8/1 (9.00) for Stage 2, with bookmakers paying three places at one-quarter odds.