The Giro’s Sprinters

Quintana, Rodriguez, Evans, Uran et al are the talk of town in Belfast and rightly so since the Giro has 38,000 vertical metres of climbing. All the mountains are backloaded into the race and the overall contenders and pretenders will merely hope to finish first week feel fresh and without losing any time. In short they’re sleeper agents until Stage 8.

The first week is all about the sprinters with a series of flat finishes and the time bonuses to allow them to take the race lead.

When and where?
The sprint stages are Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 7, Stage 10, Stage 13, Stage 17 and Stage 21. All offer sufficiently flat routes and a flat finish. Stage 5 and Stage 6 have uphill finishes where the winner could come from a group but one reduced by the gradient.

With the 10-6-4 second time bonuses on each stage we should see the sprinters jostle for the pink jersey during the first week.

Last year saw Mark Cavendish win every bunch sprint going except Stage 5 to Matera where, as predicted, a steep hill on the way saw many sprinters dropped leaving John Degenkolb to win. This year Cavendish isn’t riding so the field is open… for Marcel Kittel to win everything.

Marcel Kittel is the big name with the big legs. The are three fuoriclasse sprinters in the sport and he’s the only one of the trio of Mark Cavendish and André Greipel to start the Giro. He got the better of these two last July and rightly sits as the top sprinter in the Giro. He comes with a full team in his service and Giant-Shimano haven’t just refined the science of the sprint train, they’ve explored new areas of it. The German is in good condition and favours the long sprint where he can open up the raw power. There will be queue, even a fight, for his wheel but will he make it across the final week? Kittel will get all the glory but spare a thought for the team as half the bunch will look to them to lead the chase every day. His bulk is a problem and besides, he’s planning to ride the Tour de France so if he slips out Luka Mezgec could take over.

Michael Matthews is second but he’s not the second fastest. Instead it’s worth mentioning Orica-Greenedge as they have the chance to win the opening the weekend. They’re odds-on to win the team time trial. I don’t know who they’ll try to get across the line first to put in pink but if Matthews secures a top-3 position in sprints on Saturday and Sunday he’s likely to be in the pink jersey. Consequently they’ll share the duty of policing the race with Giant-Shimano. The Aussies have a familiar train of team pursuit specialists and Matthews is their only sprinter. He seems suited to the hillier days rather than the pure speed finishes. Matthew Goss is a distant memory.

Elia Viviani is the form pick. The Cannondale rider is no chicken, he was challenging Mark Cavendish in the Tour of Turkey. He’s kept his track background and probably has one of the highest torque to weight ratios, even sitting in the saddle he can accelerate faster than others but he’s versatile and as we’ve seen in Turkey, confident to try long sprints too. He’s Cannondale’s most bankable rider given Ivan Basso’s looming retirement and Moreno Moser’s discrete form.

Nacer Bouhanni is back after last year when he ran second, third and fourth. He’s also ridden the Vuelta and Tour de France but the Frenchman’s hunting for his first win in a grand tour. His team have improved at lot with the lead-out but the best wagons of their train are attached to Arnaud Démare in the Four Days of Dunkerque. You sense a wider story here with Bouhanni needing a win to impose himself as an equal to Démare but success here will also increase his market value. Much is made of his boxing background but he joined a cycling club at the age of six. A stage win is firmly in reach and it’ll be interesting to see the tactics adopted towards Kittel, Bouhanni seems to benefit from more disruptive sprints while Kittel likes a long range charge to the line.

Another with a long sprint is Alessandro Petacchi. He’s riding his home tour, a race where he’s won an astonishing 27 stages but might still feel out of place. The oldest rider in the Giro he was supposed to retire this time last year but OPQS recruited him as a lead out for Mark Cavendish… who is riding the Tour of California. Alé-Jet is therefore left to sprint for himself although he has Iljo Keiise and Julien Vermote in support.

Garmin-Sharp have Tyler Farrar. It’s been easy to dismiss him in recent years given the lack of results but he reappeared in the spring classics with two podium finishes. I’ll also be watching Nathan Haas who is more than useful in an uphill sprint.

Trek Factory Racing come with Giacomo Nizzolo who fulfils the role of in-house sprinter, a rider capable of taking timely victories… but rarely against the big names. He’s been second in sprints in the Giro before and if the right doors open he could win this time and has veteran Danilo Hondo as a valuable lead-out. Lotto-Belisol’s fastest man is Kenny de Haes but it’s hard to see him cracking the top-5.

Team Sky have Chris Sutton and maybe Bernhard Eisel for the bunch sprints, Sutton has won a stage of the Vuelta before but is recovering from injury and late entrant to the race. More on Sky’s chances further below.

Finally some more names to conjure with. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Francesco Chicchi (Neri Sottoli), Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) and Manuele Belletti (Androni) are all hungry and will take extreme risks for the prize of a win in their home race. You might not know many of these names but Ferrari’s won a Giro stage before and Ruffoni was surprisingly quick in the Tour of Oman.

Now for a second category of finishers. We might see them in the bunch sprints but these are the finishers who could and should shine on some of the uphill sprints. There’s an overlap with some names above, like Matthews and Haas.

Team Sky have an interesting mix with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ben Swift. Office politics will stretch to the road as their talents overlap. They’re fast finishers who prefer a hilly course to eliminate their rivals. Normally the Norwegian would be top dog but he’s leaving Team Sky and the squad might prefer Swift. So how they ride together will be worth viewing.

Astana have Borut Božič for the uphill finishes, their only concession to sprinting with Andrea Guardini sat at home again. Enrico Battaglin won a stage last year and returns with Bardiani-CSF along with the versatile Sonny Colbrelli. Ag2r La Mondiale’s Davide Appollonio will probably contest the bunch sprints but I think he’s more effective when the road rises a bit but a win would be a surprise anywhere. Colombia’s Leonardo Duque is getting on and an infrequent winner at best. Cannondale’s Oscar Gatto could pounce anywhere and talking of feline names, Trek’s Fabio Felline has long been touted as a big talent but he’s yet to break through, he’s only just turned 24.

There’s a long tail to this list where we go from sprinters to puncheurs and beyond. You can go through Diego Ulissi, Moreno Moser and beyond to Cadel Evans and more.

Having previewed the GC contenders I thought it was worth focussing on the more immediate action in the sprints because the mountains are a long way away. If anything this run through of the names will help list the cast of actors for the show during first week.

Mark Cavendish won five stages enduring the snow and the Alps to finish the race and win the red jersey he missed out on by one point in 2012. In his absence is Marcel Kittel who looks set to storm the sprints but will he stay the course for the points jersey too? It’s similar to the overall contest, we have one top rider in Kittel but the others are racing elsewhere and we’ll have to wait for the Tour de France for a sprint royale between Kittel, Greipel, Cavendish with Arnaud Démare, John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan too.

Kittel seems the fastest of the lot by some way which means his team will have a lot of work to do but I sense the competition will be lively. Matthews could be in pink, Bouhanni keeps progressing and Viviani is right on form. As ever a crowd of Italians will run wild in this race.

39 thoughts on “The Giro’s Sprinters”

    • They’ve got the best lead out going and have tried different techniques to improve this. There’s specific training drills and the timing of their efforts. OPQS and others have done something similar but Giant-Shimano’s coaching staff seem to have made a speciality out of it and the team’s leadout seems far more consistent than OPQS, Lotto-Belisol or FDJ.

  1. What on earth happened to Matthew Goss? Didn’t he win MSR not so long ago — why did he drop off the face of the earth? Just curious.

    • He and the team want to know this.

      The training plans have changed, he did lots of speed work last year; this year it was old-skool long rides but neither’s done much.

      He’s talented and the MSR win was due but at the same time an exception: he got on the back of a group and was simply the fastest left when they came into the finish. But he’s been able to win bunch sprints before and used to give Cavendish a run for his money. His big contract with Greenedge is up and you wonder what’s next.

    • That was 3 years ago…

      I think he’s got into that downward spiral of lack of results in the 1st year at OGE as the main man -> pressure -> falling confidence etc

      Its that issue of needing a couple of wins to start getting back the confidence etc

      He also just isnt as fast as Cav-Kittel-Griepel. Would be better going for the lumpy stages that whittle it down to a selective group going for the sprint. Problem is that this area is crowded including Sagan, Demare, Meersman, Swift back on form etc – and his own team mate Matthews

      • Not to mention Dekengolb and the other Orica rider – Gerrans.

        Inrng identifies that his big win, MSR, was an exception in what was a promising but unspectacular rise (compared to a Sagan or Cavendish). From that point on he carried the label of former MSR winner and the elevatent expectations that went with it.
        I think you accurately identify added pressure and falling confidence as the result of the increased expectations.

        The big question is where does he go from here….At 27 he still has time to improve, but the top tier of sprinters looks well out of reach at the moment and the second level, including the hilly stage specialists, is very crowded – as Sam points out.

        Maybe some time back on the track could see his confidence return.

        • He was good throughout 2011 and almost beat Cavendish at the world champs. I think he should look at O’Grady’s career and follow it. Goss started off in the team pursuit before winning sprints and contesting for the green jersey. I think he either should focus on classics or be a lead out man

          • “Not every aspect of O’Grady’s career” By which you mean doping? Are you saying you think riders today are clean?!? *please*

          • He was also the only person Cav used to fear, according to the Manx Missile himself. Clearly lost his zip, he was very close to wearing rainbow in Copenhagen.

          • That actually would be nice for Goss — but who watches the Tour of the makers of Epo? Besides Americans, I mean. Don’t those kind of sponsors and the practices that go with it (some edition never tested for Epo!!! — I know, I know, it was a coincidence, or something) belong to the dustbin of cycling history?

          • Tor, Sagan, Phinney, Wurf, Boonen, Cav, Renshaw, Yates bros, Wiggins, JENS VOIGT, plus a large handful of strong domestics will make things interesting and worth watching. The only disappointment is no Horner with Lampre. Every edition of ToC that you deride had a TdF full of dopers in the same year and you didn’t boycott that.

            Wiggins is working hard and he’s headed to Cali with the TdF in mind; Jens is starting his (first of 5) farewell years, the Yates bros are ramping up for their future potential. Yes, it’s not the Grandest Grand Tour, but there’s a lot to see and pay attention to.

          • Goss has the credentials to be excellent in the classics and I agree he should look back at the track to renew his confidence and at 27 he is still coming into full strength and maturity

  2. Nice subject. It is a little sad to see signs of the beginning of the end of Cav’s reign. It seems the train has not been perfect since Highroad and Petacchi is not the answer he could have been. Best to Kittel, but Cav’s the legend.

    • Somewhere in there is evidence of Renshaw’s value at HTC as well. He was the unsung genius of finding a way through to the front from 1K to 200m.

    • I still don’t get the “beginning of the end for Cav”. We have to wait until July, when he will have the train he wants and the big focus on the Tour again to see whether he’s on a downward spiral. Last year he completed the giro in awful conditions in order to get all the points jerseys – not surprising he was possibly not 100% for the tour after that.

      • Exactly this, I think Cav stands in good stead for this year.
        A tired Kittel from the Giro, plus the much improved OPQS train should tip the balance the way of Cav.

      • I’m not saying downward spiral, I’m saying that a sprinter has a shelf life and gradually becomes less effective. Cav will still win plenty, but he used to win Everything, his train was The train.

        • I’m a bit scepital of all these efforts to write Cav off… in the Tour last year he was a yard off winning on the Champs after hitting a pothole, after Kittel got the best lead-out. If he’d won that it would have been 3-3 vs Kittel and everyone would’ve been blahing on about 5 out of 5 etc. The margins are still pretty small, and Cav is a special animal, and really not that old yet…

  3. I wonder how easy it’s going to be for Giant Shimanos to organize their train in the wet with everyone chomping at the bit in the first few stages. I haven’t seen Kittel win a sprint where he didn’t have a clear run to the line, mind you, if he does, no one will be near him.

    I can see a confidence-brimming Viviani snipe 1 if not 2 stages on the Isle.

    • If the finishes of the Irish stages are anything like the Women’s tour they will need a guard and a station master to organize the trains.

  4. The thing that impresses me most about the top three sprinters is how well they come across in TV interviews. Their trade is cut-throat battle, yet they all come over as genuinely nice and intelligent people.

  5. Ah Matt Goss, what can be said that hasn’t already been discussed. The guy was useless last year, not even going top 10 at the Tour on the flat stages, and was getting dropped very early on other stages.

    Infact for one of classics recently he was out the back door within 100km of the start of the race.

    I think he hhas got lazy at OGE and doesn’t seem to have the drive that Gerrans does. Perhaps he would benefit from a move to another team and he works as a domestique for another. He could be a good partner for Sagan if the both were to join the Alonso team, no pressure to win for example…

  6. Such a fall from his best days though. Back during HTC days, he was allegedly unhappy with not being in the conversation when Greipel and Cav are mentioned

  7. I would have thought OGE would want to put their Italian Champion Ivan Santaromita into Pink. I get that giving it to a sprinter early on in the grand tours is normal as after the first week they don’t get the chance but surely an Italian Champion in Pink would be more fitting.

    • I agree, but I’m not sure Santaromita is going to be leading them over the line given their position in the running order. They will not be able to measure their performance against the time they need to beat, instead they just have to put up as fast a time as possible and watch nervously as others have a pop at them. I can see the group staying nicely together until the home straight and then a core of strong riders putting everything in to get to the line. Santaromita might do well to stay in touch at that stage.

      Back to the preview: No mention of Paolini? I know he’s said he’s working for Rodriguez but will he not be trying to get to the front for the sprint stages? I’m not saying he will win a stage but he’s pretty wily and can hang on without support into the finale.

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