In the same way that the race organisers have tried to jazz things up with the polka dot jersey, they have also gone to lengths to make sure that the green jersey ends up on the shoulders of the Tour's best sprinter.
Britain's Mark Cavendish is clearly the fastest man on two wheels right now, but the HTC-Highroad sprinter has yet to wear the green jersey into Paris — something which may now change.
You see, as was the case in May's Giro, there will now be just one intermediate sprint during each stage, as opposed to the numerous showdowns on previous years. 20 points will be given to the first rider over the intermediate line, with a sliding scale of points up for grabs down to the 15th-placed rider.
At the finish of flat stages, 45 points will be pocketed by the winner, with 30 available on hilly stages and 20 in the mountains. Again, there will be a sliding scale down to 15th place.
It remains to be seen what such changes will have on the green jersey competition — but in May's Giro, which used a similar system, the overall winner of the red points jersey was in fact Alberto Contador.
Indeed, there wasn't a sprinter to be seen in the entire top 10 — although this may have something to do with the mountain-heavy nature of the race, which saw most sprinters withdraw a week before the finish in Milan.
If this were to be a sprinting-friendly Tour, Mark Cavendish (HTC) would be rubbing his hands in glee, for on paper the combination of extra points up for grabs on sprint finales and less intermediate sprints (never Cav's forte) suits the Manxman to a tee. And yet the opening week of the race contains a number of uphill finishes and just one out-and-out flat finish conducive to a mass bunch sprint, so Cavendish will have to keep patient and plug away. He may be the clear favourite to take his maiden green jersey in Paris, but the Manxman will have to take his chances when they come — and start contesting those intermediate sprints — if he wants the top prize.
The main contenders:
Standing in his way will be the usual suspects of Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre). World champion Hushovd has been in poor form this season and did not notch a win until the recent Tour of Switzerland. A two-time green jersey winner, Hushovd nevertheless knows how to win the competition and is an excellent tactician. The Norwegian's team-mate Farrar has been out of form all season, and was knocked psychologically and emotionally by the death of his best friend Wouter Weylandt in the Giro. On his day, he's a match for Cavendish; Farrar just needs to regain his confidence. Although 37, reigning green jersey winner Petacchi is still winning races and should feature highly in all the bunch sprints. He's not impartial to slightly uphill finishes, either.
The dark horse:
Not so much dark as peroxide blonde, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has dyed his hair for the occasion, but it will be perhaps green and not bright yellow that the Belgian will ultimately target. The opening week suits Gilbert to a tee and he could well be wearing either jersey through the Massif Central and towards the Pyrenees.
Other fast men to watch:
The 2007 green jersey Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has been out of sorts for the past few years, clearly suffering from injuries and the majestic rise of pure sprinter Cavendish. But if the Belgian finds some consistency, he could be a threat — especially given his strong team support. Cavendish's former team-mate Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) is making a belated Tour debut but it remains to be seen if he can mix it with the best. Spaniard Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) has never made an impact on the Tour but he enters the race in good form and could prove a double handful with the help of fellow sprinting team-mate Jose Rojas.
Young Russian Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) has made an impact this season, although it may be too early for him to have any huge say in the green jersey competition. Despite his initial promise, Gerald Ciolek (Quick Step) is yet to deliver on the Tour, but if things don't work out for Boonen, then the German and Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) will be there or thereabouts to pick up points. Leonardo Duque (Codifis) is a consistent top 10 finisher so will pick up points, while Vacansoleil, making their Tour debut, have three sprinters in Romain Feillu, Borut Bozic and new revelation Thomas De Gendt who can all make a splash.
If Cavendish doesn't adjust to the uphill finishes, then HTC-Highroad lead-out men Matt Goss, Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw are all capable of high finishes and even wins. Also, if no one sprinter asserts his authority on the green jersey, then one of the GC favourites — Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck — could climb the standings, particularly with all those points available on the four summit finishes.