Tour de France 2018 | The Sprinters

 Photo: Adam Phelan

Photo: Adam Phelan

This feels like a good tour if you’re a sprinter – we’ve got seven stages which look nailed on for a sprint (stages 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 18, 21) and another one that probably will (13). With a flat opening week, we’re going to see at least one of them pull on the Yellow Jersey too, so there are some serious prizes on offer here. As a result, we’ve got an absolutely stacked sprint lineup.

 

Before we cover who is going, who isn’t going is worth a mention. A lot has already been written about Caleb Ewan’s un-inclusion from Mitchelton-SCOTT’s squad, and that means it’s another year’s wait to see him debut on the biggest stage. There’s no doubt he would have been fighting for some wins, so it’s an odd decision (and almost certainly a politically motivated one), but it’s the one they’ve made.

 

We’re seeing the rest of sprinting’s new guard at this race though, led by Fernando Gaviria. He’s a Colombian sprinter, and while those are usually cycling’s equivalent of Australian rappers, he’s turned out to be an absolute gem. With the backing of QuickStep, one of the strongest flatland teams, he’s going to be very, very, visible over the next month. His Grand Tour debut was a resounding success as he won four stages at last year’s Giro, so don’t count inexperience as too much of a handicap. He has a great sprint, as he was at the forefront of the Tour of California, winning the three bunch gallops there. He was reasonable at Suisse too; even if he didn’t win any stages, he placed second three times.

 

 Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Dylan Groenewegen is another young sprinter making waves, though he made his TDF debut two years ago. He’s shown good progression to the top of the sprint game, taking his maiden Grand Tour win on the Champs-Elysees last year. As one of the classics-focused sprinters, he rode some of those races in the spring; he rode Paris-Roubaix and won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne; as well as eight other victories this season, he could even be a smokey for the cobbled stage 9.

 

Did someone say Classics? Cause Peter Sagan’s here too – the reigning Roubaix champ will be eyeing off stage 9 and the cobbles, while he will get involved in the sprints as always. He’ll be a man on a mission this year; the five-time Malliot Vert needs only one more points classification win to equal Erik Zabel for the all time record and was controversially expelled from the race last year after an incident with Mark Cavendish.

 

That man, Mark Cavendish is also chasing records; he’s only four behind Merckx for all-time stage wins at the race. At age 33, each one means more and is getting harder and harder to find. Last year’s race was cruelled by injury, he pulled out before stage 5 having crashed the day before. He did take 4 in 2016 though, so there’s possibly a little bit of life left in the old dog. His only win this year has come at the Dubai Tour though, as he crashed out of Milan-San Remo, and Tirreno Adriatico.

 

The man who did win the Green Jersey last year returns too; Michael Matthews will return to defend his crown. He’s another man who made little noise over the spring, having been injured and ill. He did take one win though, a prologue at the Tour of Romandie, though hasn’t yet been able to build upon that. His most recent outing at Tour de Suisse, he was in the mix and looks to be near his best again. A versatile sprinter, he’ll feature on a variety of terrains, and again be in the running for the Green Jersey.

 

With all his competition injured or disqualified last year, Marcel Kittel had a field day, winning 5 stages; he’ll be looking to repeat that this year. He’ll have a new team though, having joined Team Katusha, with Gaviria taking advantage of the German’s old train. He won twice earlier this year at Tirreno-Adriatico, but also hasn’t been super. A lot will depend on how his new team gels together – Katusha aren’t the most established of sprint trains, which is something Kittel has generally benefitted from.

 

So who vacated the Katusha seat in the sprinting Musical Chairs last year? Alexander Kristoff, now of UAE Team Emirates, did. Kristoff’s still settling in at his team but has taken four wins so far, the biggest being Echborn-Frankfurt. He’s not seen success at Le Tour in recent years, having won two stages in 2014 and none since. Can that change this year? You’d have to say probably not; he just doesn’t look as good as he did a few years ago, but he’ll probably win one just to spite us now.

 

A man who might be moving on next year is Andre Greipel. Germany’s other sprinter has team dramas going on right now, so he’ll be motivated at this race. He’s had a reasonable year, with five wins so far; two at Tour Down Under, two at Baloise Belgium Tour, and one at the Four Days of Dunkerque. He was winless here last year, but his longevity is incredible, so expect to see him at the front of the race.

 

Arnaud Demare stormed to win the final sprint at Tour de Suisse, and that win was completely out of nowhere. He’s someone as you think of as suiting the lumpy days, but he was completely out of it on the lumpier days at Suisse, only popping up on the final road stage. He’s a bit like that; unsighted for several days on end, before winning the odd sprint. Last year he took a sprint win at Le Tour, and he’ll be hoping for a repeat performance.

 

Confused? So are we, there’s a stacked sprint field here, and a whole lot of sprint days for them to battle it out on. For the Green Jersey, we’re going to back a different face than what you might expect. There are so many flat days, and so many sprinters, that I think a pure sprinter is going to accumulate enough sprint points to take the Green Jersey. Who will it be? Gaviria is my tip; QuickStep are so strong that he’s going to be thereabouts every day.

Campbell Flakemore