Battle for sprint jersey rages as Tour leaders relaxPosted: Thursday July 24, 2003 12:23 PM
BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) -- While the Tour de France leaders relaxed in a flat stage between Dax and Bordeaux on Thursday, waiting for Saturday's important individual time trial, another race was raging in the peloton, the battle for the points standings.
With only three stages left before the finish in Paris on Sunday, the race for the green jersey was even closer than the duel between Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich for overall victory.
Australian Baden Cooke was in the lead with 169 points, with the last two points winners, compatriot Robbie McEwen and German Erik Zabel, on his heels with 163 and 157 points respectively.
But the seven leading riders in the points classification can still mathematically win and with only one more flat stage before Saturday's time trial, sprinters might have to wait for the final day in Paris for the coveted green jersey to be awarded.
Two years ago, Zabel won a record sixth green jersey on the last day thanks to a time bonus taken in an intermediate sprint and McEwen secured his points victory last year by outsprinting his rivals on the Champs-Elysees.
"For me, the man who will win the stage on the Champs-Elysees will win the green jersey," said Cooke.
"The green jersey will be won point by point and it will be crucial to win a stage because a stage win awards 35 points and a second place 30.
"The rider among the top seven who scores no points one day will be out of contention," Cooke's FDJeux.com team chief Marc Madiot said.
But Cooke, winner of a stage in Sedan, said that he was not necessarily setting his sights on another stage victory.
"A stage win in Bordeaux or Paris would be great of course but it's secondary. What matters now is the green jersey," said the Australian.
"Of course, it would be great for Australians to win the green jersey twice in succession, and Robbie is a good mate, but I hope it's me," he added.
"Seriously, I think it'll be down to Robbie, Erik and me," he added before the start of Thursday's stage to Bordeaux.
For once, the classic Bordeaux stage was not won by a sprinter as a 10-man breakaway went all the way and the fight between Cooke, McEwen and Zabel was for 11th place only.
Even so, the sprint between the three was all the more intriguing as it was won by McEwen, ahead of Zabel and Cooke, who lost part of his lead on his rivals.
The two Australians should beware Zabel, always at his best in the third week and who showed in Wednesday's stage to Bayonne that he finished the Tour better than he started it.
But the German said a seventh green jersey was not his priority.
"The green jersey does not matter so much to me anymore," the 33-year-old said.
"Because of it, I ruined my career and spoilt my chances in the one-day classics."
But to see Zabel in green, his son on his shoulders, on the podium of the Tour for the seventh time on Sunday would be an ideal scene as the race celebrates its centenary.
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