At the start of the Tour de France, the Sprint category (the green jersey) was de facto Peter “the Hulk” Sagan’s to lose. Close contenders were Mark “the Manx missile” Cavendish, Andre “the Gorilla” Greipel , and Marcel “the upstart” Kittel. There were other great sprinters in the race. No one gets to the Tour without being great. But no one really pegged them as having a chance.
Even among the favorites, the creme de la creme, there were issues that worked in Sagan’s favor. The Missile was coming off a bout of mononucleosis, so his health and his chances were not as good as normal. The Gorilla really didn’t have the formidable lead-out train that he’d had in other years, putting him at a disadvantage. As for the upstart, he seemed destined to have a few stage wins but the younger, faster, more wiley Sagan was always going to end up wearing the Green in Paris.
But life’s is a funny thing.
- Stage 1: Thomas 20 points, Kung 17, Kiryienka 15
Kittel was 9th and walked away with 7 pt. Sagan, Cavendish, Greipel and everyone else important in sprinting walked away with 0 points. The people that got points were all GC, or General Classification riders, meaning they’re interested in winning the race for themselves or their team but don’t care about winning sprints.
Because GC riders crossed the sprint line before the sprinters, the sprinters lost out on points. Thus, Thomas Geraint, the Welshman, became the first winner from Wales to wear the Green Jersey.
- Stage 2: Kittel 63 and Demare 38. Greipel 25. Cavendish 22, Matthews 17, Sagan 14.
Remaining in the hunt, are Germans Greipel and Kittel, Manxman Cavendish, Frenchman Arnaud Demare, Slovakian Sagan, and Aussie Michael Matthews. Keep your eye on the Aussie.
- Stage 3: Kittel 66, Demare 57, Sagan 50, Matthews 44, Cavendish 31, Greipel 30
At this point, the man from OZ has jumped Cavendish and Greipel. He’s putting in that extra effort for every point. He’s jumped from 5th, to 4th place.
- Stage 4: Ends in a tremendous crash at the Sprint that takes out Manx Missile, Cavendish, and results in the Hulk, Sagan, being bounced from the Tour. Unexpectedly, the other sprinters are now relieved of two top competitors as a result. The new standings are: Demare 124, Kittel 81, Matthews 66, Greipel 63.
From this point on, Matthews jumps to 3rd place and continues to fight for points every day. Greipel hangs in there at 4th place, but just can’t get enough points to jump Matthews. And that will prove to have repercussions down the line.
- Stage 5: Demare 127, Kittel 87, Matthews 73, Greipel 63.
- Stage 6: Demare 170, Kittel 143, Matthews 96, Greipel 93
- Stage 7: Kittel 197, Demare 182 , Matthews 123, Greipel 110 .
- Rest Day
- Stage 8: Kittel 212, Demare 182, Matthews 140, Greipel 130
- Stage 9: Unexpectedly, the Demare drops out of the race. So by the end of the day, the new standings are: Kittel 212. Matthews 160. Greipel 130
Because Matthews has been working away at getting points consistently, when Providence cuts him a break, he’s ready to take the number 2 spot. Greipel has been giving it his all, but he can only manage to hang on to 3rd place.
- Stage 10: Kittel 275. Matthews 173. Greipel 150
From this point on, Matthews pulls away from Greipel even as Kittel pulls away from Matthews. But it doesn’t seem to stop Matthews fighting for every point.
- Stage 11: Kittel 335 Matthews 202 Greipel 171
- Stage 12: Kittel 352 Matthews 222 Greipel 171
- Stage 13: Kittel 363 Matthews 235 Greipel 180
- Stage 14: Kittel 373 Matthews 274 Greipel 187
- Stage 15 Kittel 373 Matthews 294 Greipel 187
A this point, the gaps are pretty big. A lot of people would settle. They’d be happy just to have podium finish in Paris. But not Michael Matthews.
- Rest Day
- Stage 16: Kittel 373 Matthews 344 Greipel 204
Kittel, having been sick during the rest day, is dropped early from the pack. Matthews rides like a demon and wracks up an amazing 50 points. Greipel could have fought him for the line, on at least one sprint, and snatched but didn’t. Kittle’s lead is so wide that he can afford to have an off day and still stay ahead.
- Stage 17: Still not feeling well, Kittle ride in the back of the peleton, a notoriously dangerous place to hang out. Unexpectedly, a crash happens early in the race taking Kittle down. He falls very hard injuring his shoulder, elbow, and knee. He gets medical assistance, but it’s not enough. He abandons the race. The standings at the end of the day: Matthews 364, Greipel 204
At this point, there’s 4 days left of racing. If Matthews can just do as he’s done, fight for every point, he’ll be in the Green jersey in Paris on Sunday.
This a life lesson you can take away from this year’s Tour. Put your head down, do the work, and fight for every point, because you never know what obstacles might miraculously disappear from your path.
I can’t tell you Mike Matthews is the best sprinter in the world. I don’t think he’d say that. He just did the work. He gave the last ounce of effort he had. And life just took out of his way the “brightest and best” Sagan, Cavendish, Demare, and Kittle, to give him the victory.
In life there may be a host of people “better” than you at whatever you do or aspire to do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your out of the race. Sometimes it’s just about sheer dogged determination and physical endurance.
Oh and if that’s not enough for you?
The man that won the stage today, Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, started his career in professional cycling “late” in life, at age 21. He’d been a ski jumper, till 2011, but after a life-threatening wipe out, he had to change sports. By 2013 he was on a professional cycling team. Now his fearless riding on the downhill slopes launched him straight into a stage win in his first Tour de France.
So that’s another lesson. Sometimes you need to change to win. Primoz didn’t give up sports, he just changed to a different one. Maybe something you’re doing isn’t working for you anymore. Degas’s eyesight started to fail, so he gave up oil painting and switched to pastels. Don’t quit doing something you love, just find another way to embrace it. If you do, maybe you’ll also find yourself on the podium, as a result of life’s little miracles.