To Sprint or Not to Sprint?

Fernando Gaviria
Etixx-Quickstep have signed Fernando Gaviria for 2016 and some have asked if this means trouble for Mark Cavendish. No, in fact it’s potentially a good move for the team and even helpful for Mark Cavendish. Several teams have multiple sprinting options while some stay out of this crowded contest.

Gaviria certainly looks exciting. But let’s not forget he was heading for peak form to impress at the Tour de San Luis and then the track world championships so beating Mark Cavendish and Sacha Modolo was great for him but it’d be another thing to do it in the European summer when the stars sprinters are shining. Not that his peak form was a blip, he’s already won two rainbow jerseys on the track, the pedigree is there. It’s just that when he pulls on an Etixx jersey for 2016 we should remember he’ll be a 21 year old neo-pro and simply moving to Europe and learning languages will be a challenge, yet alone learning to sprint in the big races.

Coquard Case Study
Thinly built with a devastating kick and youthful confidence? See Gaviria but also Europcar’s Bryan Coquard, the Olympic omnium silver medallist and new Madison world champion, 22 years old. Very promising but when it comes to challenging Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel he’s got some margin for improvement. If Gaviria becomes as good by the end of 2017 he’ll be doing very well.

Second Sprinter
Still it’s a wise move for the Belgian super team. Glance at their roster and Mark Cavendish is their only sprinter. Yes Gianni Meersman wins sprints as does Matteo Trentin but both seem punchier riders for the harder stages while Mark Renshaw is really a lead-out specialist who can take a win from time to time. So adding another sprinter makes sense. The one area where “Gav” might struggle with “Cav” is the leadout, this is a skill that takes years to learn. Instead with the UCI’s calendar reforms looking as stalled as a sprinter on the Mortirolo, the prospect of overlapping races looks set to continue so teams can place a sprinter in one race like Paris-Nice and have another in Tirreno-Adriatico. It’ll even help Cavendish as he’s not the only sprinter tasked with winning. Unlike a stage race specialist a sprinter is expected to win almost all-season long. Cav + Gav should mean more wins for the team which suits everyone although again, let’s not expect too much from the Colombian next year.

Etixx-Quick Step are one of the top teams with a matching budget and having a back-up sprinter is normal. Look at Movistar, not necessarily the team you’d think of for sprints but they have two esprínters in Juan-Joaquin Rojas and Juan-José Lobato. Giant-Alpecin have Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, with Luka Mezgec playing the back-up role and others like Dauphiné stage winner Nikias Arndt are capable of sprint wins too. Some teams are sprinter-heavy:

  • Orica-Greenedge have many with Adam Blythe, Caleb Ewan, Michael Matthews, Leigh Howard while Jens Keukeleire, Brett Lancaster and Simon Yates all finish very fast too
  • MTN-Qhubeka have concentrated their recruitment on sprinters with Theo Boss, Matt Goss, Tyler Farrar and sprinter-all rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen and sprinter-classics rider Reinardt Janse van Rensburg joining Gerald Ciolek and Kristian Sbaragli on board: that’s seven sprinters.

Should all teams have a sprinter? It’s a question for Moneyball /Moneywheell students as the price is high to start with. A few years ago Europcar manager Jean-René Bernaudeau said he saw Cavendish winning stage after stage in the Tour de France and decided not to bother recruiting a sprinter for his Europcar team. Bernaudeau’s case is telling because he’s got a small budget with little room for luxury and as we saw last winter, he decided to keep Bryan Coquard but the funds used up meant he had to lose some classics contenders. Even a modest sprinter comes at premium because if they get outdone in the grand tour finishes they’re bound to win a semi-classic here or a stage in the Tour of [Insert your preferred French/Spanish region] and therefore command a premium salary. However it’s this occasional win that helps raise moral on the team and if a smaller team didn’t count on winning a sprint stage in a grand tour at least they’ve gathered up some smaller crumbs elsewhere.

Talking of premium salaries as we saw with Nacer Bouhanni’s million Euro switch to Cofidis, you can’t just hire a sprinter. They often like to have a train and come as a package. Some sprinters can cope without a lead out but the more other teams use trains these days, the more a sprinter needs one to help save energy in the final. For a manager this means budget but also a cost on the roster. It’s ok for Cofidis who won’t start the Tour de France with big ambitions for the overall but look at Astana where Andrea Guardini is fast enough on a good day to beat, say Mark Cavendish but he’s unlikely to start the Tour de France and if he rides the Giro will have to freestyle the sprint because the team is built around the ambitions of Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru.

Several teams opt for one or two “house sprinters”. Like a house wine these fastmen aren’t going to score big every time but they’ll get the job done. Team Sky have hired Elia Viviani while Ben Swift seems more than sprinter and Chris Sutton hasn’t won a sprint since 2011. Trek Factory Racing have Danny van Poppel and Giacomo Nizzolo.

The one oddity among all the teams is Tinkoff-Saxo because if they’ve hired Peter Sagan they don’t really have anyone else, Daniele Bennati used to sprint but is more of a road captain these days. It’s odd because you’d think Tinkov would want someone to win on the days when Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan won’t, if we were assembling a dream team surely we’d pick a sprinter too?

How much would you pay for a sprinter to finish second to Kittel?

How many races end in a sprint?
If you know, please get in touch. I did try to count but the sheer number of races makes it hard to count and but it’s as much a qualitative job as quantitative one because if some sprint finishes are obvious with 150 riders all on the same time, how do you define others, is a contest among 20/40/60 riders a bunch sprint? If there are time gaps between the riders was it a sprint, you need to find video or reports to find out what happened. It’s a proper piece of research but it does feel like most races do end in a mass gallop.

Trouble for Mark Cavendish? No, and let’s remember Fernando Gaviria is just a promising amateur today and a neo-pro for 2016, he does half as well as Bryan Coquard it’s promising and if he’s that good it’ll help Etixx-Quick Step. Indeed having a second sprinter seems ordinary for a team, especially once as well-financed as Etixx-Quick Step. Different teams have different sprint philosophies, some sit out the sprint completely, some see it as their defining point and many accept that domination is unlikely but still have a house sprinter or two.

47 thoughts on “To Sprint or Not to Sprint?”

    • Quite a large number of the races I was involved with last year ended with the break winning. Probably greater than 50%. Not that either of our very small sample sizes have much relevance.

  1. Seven sprinters at MTN at I’d be willing to stick my neck on the line and say that none of them will win anything significant this year as far as a bunch sprint is concerned. It’ll be interesting to see how the two young Italians Marini and Mareczko get on too.

      • Yep. They have far too many to keep everyone happy. Expect some fireworks later in the season, and not in the races!

        There are loads of good, young sprinters aside from Kittel and Cav. Take DvP, he’s only 21 and has a big future. Guardini is young as is Ewan, Marini, Mareczko, Coquard. Bauhaus is a talent too.

        But this EQS signing isn’t just about Gaviria, Contreras looks like he has bags of potential (Colombian problems aside) as he can climb and he can TT. The next Nairo?

          • Yet somehow Colombians only won GTs in the pre and post EPO eras and disappeared almost completely in the interregnum. I guess they must have doped too hard for a while, that’s how it works?

          • What’s more to the point than that juice-nonsense is that the past (not only in cycling) has shown, that athletes from brazil, colombia etc., would often need more initial help with adjusting to the different culture in europe and getting over the first homesickness. Especially because they often are very young. A responsible employer would know this and would make sure his athlete get this first help to adjust if he needs it. Otherwise it would be very stupid: Paying a lot of money and not making sure to get something for it.

          • I did, a while ago. Its a great read. “I’ve heard about this team bringing this stuff from Spain so they could use it, and how they use it.” Clearly here’s doping in the Colombian national scene, as there surely is in most local cycling environments. There just isn’t enough testing. Check this article:

            The gist of what Villegas said, summarized from that last answer, is that you can do it clean, you can win races, you can get ahead by staying true. I don’t know how you go from there to assuming Colombian cycling is dirty. All of the big young guns in Colombian cycling have come from the same 4-72 team Villegas came from, with its emphasis on clean cycling. The ones doing track are subjected to very stringent international rules.

            “This is an issue that is facing the sport as a whole.” Yeah, even in Colombia. After all, 38 year old Fuentes client Oscar Sevilla won the last two Vueltas.

    • It looks an amazing lineup if it was still 2008-2010, as it is they’re mainly people who have fallen off the form cliff and have dropped down for a reason. With the except of Ciolek at Milan – San Remo and odd showings from Boasson Hagen, it’s been rare to see any of the others do too much in recent years. Goss seems to have never got over losing to Cav in the World Championships for instance.

    • Probably, the team does like to bring on young riders but it’s a bit of a lottery, no? If a rider gets good they’ll have to pay them a lot of money that they could pay hiring someone else from outside. The team though does have a big development side, a lot of riders come from its feeder team.

  2. Cannondale-Garmin is another example of a team without a sprinter. They seem not to even have anyone really for the cobbled classics either. It will be interesting to see how their concentrated focus on the Ardennes and stage races works. But, when you have a mid-level budget, you cannot compete in all types of races.

    • They’ve been using Narvadaskus, but he seems best suited to a long and hard sprint. And according to their site, Kristoffer Skjerping likes to sprint. Skjerping! Skjerping! Skjerping!

  3. And speaking of sprinters on Trek Factory Racing Team let’s not forget fabulous Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellera, who proved in last year’s Ronde that he can deliver in a pinch sprint. So bring it on baby!

    • Heck yes for Spartacus, cannot wait. Hoping he and Boonen have a glorious (perhaps last, at least for FC) classics season of legendary competition.
      I noticed that Trek is not on the start lists for Omloop or K-B-K; hoping that what I have seen is simply a very early draft. Cannondale is also missing from the lists.

  4. can we discuss the lefevere press quotes about cav? he says everyone loves cav but he needs to win big races…tour wins…for him to justify his salary and keeping him on.

    lefevere is very shrewd. unless cav wins like MSR and/or 2-3 tour stages, i doubt cav stays with quickstep.

    especially with a potential addition of degenkolb taking some big money out of the team.

    • According to the Cycling Podcast Degenkolb is still under contract until the end of next season, so EQS would have to pay serious cash to both buy him out of his current deal (if possible) and then pay him a top salary.

      Also, as has been mentioned here previously, the team has invested in not only Cav but guys like Renshaw and now Sabatini to function as his lead out train, suggesting the team is planning long-term. Plus he’s already won 5 races and it’s not even March yet, so he looks to be on much better form this year. Finally, Lefevere would be a fool to ditch one of the most popular cyclists out there, he might talk tough in interviews, but I imagine the sponsors quite appreciate having Cavendish around. So for all those reasons I doubt he’s going anywhere.

  5. I don’t like Gaviria at Etixx. Not only because Lefevère is a cancer for cycling, but especially because it looks like buying a potential enemy before he can harm you. Like Armstrong buying Heras after being chastised over the Joux-Plane. Gaviria should have stayed in a Colombian team.

    • Maybe he got a raise to go to Etixx:)

      I agree with your premise of buying a potential enemy.
      Or maybe a combination- insurance against possible departure (forced or otherwise) of Cav?

      • This has the old “Can’t beat ’em? Buy ’em?” written all over it, especially when you think the Manx Missile and his zillion euro “aero” bike was beaten by this kid on a garden-variety, off-the-rack bike. I’d think Cav’s bike sponsor may have thought this would put a dent in their marketing mojo?

          • Othersteve,
            My understanding is that those 7-11 and Team USA-era Huffys were actually bikes handmade by Ben Serotta, sporting the Huffy labels. Nothing new there, of course.
            I owned two bikes that Ben made and they were exquisite.
            Some bike fests in the States used to host what was known as a “Huffy Toss.”

        • You know Cav’s bike is “off the rack” too, right? that’s sort of how the rules work these days. Pricey, yes. Stock (besides paint), yes.

          • Yep, knew that. Did I imply the Manx-missile-mobile was anything other than way, way, way overpriced marketing mojo? With those kinds of profits a company can buy up the competition rather than compete against them, especially if you remember the bully-boy tactics they’ve used in the marketplace in general. Back in my moto daze I remember how Honda would so often take over as sponsor for whoever had won the championship the previous year – that way getting the big #1 plate on their brand despite it being won by a rider on a competing brand. They’d then run a ton of advertising showing the champ on a Honda, with a serious implication that he’d won that title on a their machine.
            SeeingElvis: before they were Huffys they were Murrays, but when Hampsten won the Giro his was actually made by John Slawta/Landshark. Same as it ever was.

          • Are you missing the irony that the Goliath to your David is Giant Bicycles? Ie the Honda of the bicycle world, who also sells $10k plus bikes (which gavira was riding), and is about the most “me too” brand in existence? He was certainly not riding some low budget stock bike. Perhaps specialized has nothing to do with EQS signing of their devo riders? Also, why focus on the negative? A large bicycle company chose to support a young rider before he is proven, with his main ambitions on the track no less. Love or hate SBC, they do more to support local, regional, and top level racing than any other brand out there.

          • To Thesteve4761: Irony? That the Giant branded bike the kid was riding cost (at most by your claim) 50% of what folks pay for the Manx-missle replica? The irony that Giant actually MAKES the bike with their name on it along with a huge number of other bikes for other brands to put their brand name on? The irony that Cav’s bike sponsor spends big advertising money to imply you can’t win unless you’re riding a bike with their name on it, while those bikes are actually made by another maker, one who also supplies a lot of product for others to put their brand names on, same as Giant? If you choose to believe “large bicycle company chose to support a young rider before he is proven, with his main ambitions on the track no less” is the reason this kid just happened to end up on the same team as Cav, that’s OK with me, though I think “Can’t beat ’em? Buy ’em!” fits much better with the past behavior of Cav’s bike sponsor. As for the money angle, Honda puts a ton of loot into motorcycle racing but I dislike their bully-boy, anti-competitive tactics as much as I dislike those of Cav’s bike sponsor, but I admit to being labeled a “deplorable snob” on this very blog 🙂

  6. BMC are very light on sprint talent. Gilberts kick isn’t what it used to be, Van avaermat does have a fast finish but can often bottle it, and Taylor Phinney is Cancellara-ish in that he doesn’t sprint, sprint, but finishes fast.

    if they had a sprinter, they’d get even more decent results…..

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