Who is cycling’s fastest sprinter?

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After a thrilling 2013 Tour Down Under in which Andre ‘The Gorilla’ Griepel notched his 100th professional stage win, it is worth taking a look at who the world’s best sprinter is.

It’s also time to look to the year ahead and ask why people tend to overlook the sprinters and classics riders in favour of the Grand Tour general classification winners.

So who are the current big name sprinters?

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), Matt Goss (Orica GreenEDGE) and Mark Renshaw (Blanco).

There are a few others but the above six guys are arguably the guys to beat on a sprint stage these days as Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire and Alessandro Petacchi are getting a bit long in the tooth.

I am not going to rank the sprinters, except to say that Cavendish is the best of them and arguably the greatest sprinter ever.

As a road cyclist, Cavendish achieved eleven wins in his first professional season, equalling the record held by Alessandro Petacchi.

Cavendish has won 23 Tour de France stages, putting him fourth on the all-time list and ninth on the all-time list of Grand Tour stage winners with 36 victories.

At the age of 27, he appears destined to further his stage win and standings of wins at Grand Tours.

‘Cav’ doesn’t generate the same wattage as the likes of Renshaw (~1800W), Griepel (~1800W) and Kittel (~1900W) and can’t sustain a higher wattage threshold for as long (Renshaw, Griepel and Kittel are much bigger men), but Cav has the most explosive sprint speed.

He ‘throws’ the bike harder than any other sprinter and has the most efficient sprinting style, owing to his small size which allows him to get low.

Another thing Cavendish has the others don’t is he is highly adaptable in a sprint, much like Robbie McEwen was.

Cavendish functioned for several years at T-Mobile/HTC with a lead out train that included Renshaw, Goss and Greipel and enjoyed phenomenal success.

From 2007-2011 HTC absolutely dominated world road cycling in terms of wins. Given their calibre of riders, it is easy to see why.

HTC was disbanded at the end of 2011 but that did not stop Cavendish from taking out the 2011 Road World Championship for Great Britian. Interestingly enough, Goss came second and Greipel third.

Moving into 2012, Cav was with Team Sky and he notched some 13 wins. One can’t help think had he not been with Sky he would have notched a few more, as Sky was heavily focused on Grand Tour GC wins.

Despite the focus on Wiggins at the 2012 Tour de France, Cavendish still managed to take three stage wins but did not have enough support in certain stages and intermediate sprint points to take the Green Jersey.

2012 was a year of change for Cavendish and has probably made him a better rider as he did not have as much support as years gone past and had to start sniffing out wheels and getting himself into position.

This all sounds easy but is hard enough moving through an amateur B-grade bunch, let alone 198 cyclists going at over 45kph through narrowed streets. Robbie McEwen was a master of this and that is why he was such a successful sprinter.

There is something else Cavendish has. Arrogance.

At the 2008 Tour de France when a journalist asked him if he was the best sprinter in the world, he answered ‘yes’.

To be a sprinter and to take wins you have to have a huge amount of self-belief and the confidence you can beat everyone else. With that said, 2013 will be a challenging year for Cav.

Sagan is a rider on the rise and Lotto’s sprint train has become even more dominant. Greg Henderson is the best lead out man in the world now and coupled with Adam Hansen you have two absolute diesel riders with the ability to control the last couple of kms in a race.

Lotto will look to employ some ‘blockers’ behind Greipel’s wheel this year to keep Cav, Sagan and co. off their backs.

However Cav has some serious firepower with Omega. While I am always keen to see Cav and Greipel go at it, I cannot wait to see Tom Boonen and Greg Henderson go head-to-head in a pedal-stomping, bottom bracket cracking lead-out at a sustained wattage of 700-880w as they fight to ‘drop off’ their respective riders.

Sagan will be in the mix, especially when there is a power climb at the end of a stage. Kittel, Renshaw or Goss will all likely pick up the odd stage win but I don’t see them having the same kind of season as Cav, Griepel and Sagan for a mix of reasons I am happy to discuss with Roarers in comments.

Interesting the GC winners are the big name to the wider audience but a recent Roar article has Boonen at No. 1. I agreed with this.

Being a racer myself I appreciate how hard it is to win a sprint or a stage race. One small mistake, whether it be not covering a break or getting out of position in sprint by going too early or too late (often by less than 30m), can mean the difference between first and fourth.

The GC riders rely heavily on a team and especially in a Grand Tour, which runs for three weeks, you can make the odd mistake and still win.

Ask most amateur and pro continental racers if they would prefer the Yellow Jersey, the World Champ’s Jersey or their name engraved in the shower block and a pave of Paris-Roubaix as a trophy?

Most would take the WC hoops or the pave, as most amateurs only ride crits and one day races.

Until next time, clip in.