Procycling

BUNCHED SPRINTERS

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At the end of 2020 it looked like there was finally some kind of sprinting hierarchy emerging: Sam Bennett and Arnaud Démare dominated at the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia respective­ly, Caleb Ewan was up there, and then there was a busy second tier. At the end of 2021, everything is a lot more complicate­d. Bennett won seven races this season, but didn’t race at all after early May. Meanwhile, Démare won nine, but none at WorldTour level. Ewan won six races, but again has been absent or off-colour at times this year, and he crashed out of the Tour early.

In their place have come a host of other fast men, but not one that can truly be thought of as the dominant force. Mark Cavendish won four stages at this year’s Tour de France. With many top sprinters absent, injured or off colour, you could argue that the opposition was weaker, though that neither changes the result nor the fact that he’s now up to 34 Tour stages in total. Nor that he won a further six races in 2021. His team-mate Fabio Jakobsen also returned to winning ways, most impressive­ly at the Vuelta, but his upward trajectory was severely stalled by his terrible crash last year and his comeback is still a work in progress. Beyond them, Alpecin-Fenix has a brace of solid sprinters in Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier, but neither was dominant.

Jakobsen, at 25, looks the most likely of this group to press on; also Ewan, at 27. And this year has proven that writing off Mark Cavendish is a fool’s errand. But nobody stood out as the best, which sets up an intriguing battle for supremacy in 2022.

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