2011 Tour de France – Sprinter Check-up

Pavé would like to thank Handspun, Clément, and Laekhouse for supporting our coverage of the 2011 Tour de France

Fotoreporter Sirotti

Prior to the 2011 Tour de France, we were asking ourselves some questions about what we could expect from the fast finishers in this year’s edition.

Would Mark Cavendish continue his reign of terror? Could perennial podium men like Tyler Farrar and Andre Greipel steal stage wins? Would would be the surprise sprint winner of this year’s Tour? Who would be the surprise sprint contenders of this year’s Tour? How would sprinting rolleurs fare?

Mark Cavendish – Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cavendish had another banner Tour de France, roping in 5 stage wins and winning the Points Competition. The latter is, perhaps, a sign that he’s maturing a bit as a rider, not only capable of sprints that punctuate uneventful stages, but rather, able to compete throughout a stage with big points offered in intermediate sprints. Furthermore, his win on Stage 5 should be considered among his most impressive ever, considering the bumpy parcours and challenging finish that dispatched with most of the “pure” sprinters.

Andre Greipel and Tyler Farrar both deserve credit for finally opening their Tour de France account. Farrar’s came on Stage 3, one day after his Garmin-Cervelo team took their first Tour win, in Stage 2′s Team Time Trial – fitting for a team so focused on collective success and selfless teamwork. Farrar’s win, however, owes some credit to the alchemy of a rare HTC meltdown and Garmin-Cervelo finally getting a successful sprint train in order – as well as Cavendish getting bumped into the wind on a tricky left-hand corner in the final kilometer. Greipel’s Stage 10 win, meanwhile, finally gave him the world-class win that he’s long felt he’s deserved, and unlike Farrar’s win, came against Cav in a head-to-head sprint.

J.J. Rojas of Movistar has doubtless had an impressive summer, taking the Spanish National Championship before setting off on a quest for the Green Jersey victory. We’d tapped him to possibly steal a sprint win from one of the bigger teams, but didn’t expect him to put up such a fight for the Green Jersey. Kudos to Rojas, who has put himself on the map.

Norwegian opportunists Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen, in my opinion, can hardly be called sprinters. Despite their ability to compete in bunch sprints, they’re both best described else-wise. Hushovd is a high-powered rolleur (not, as some have said with raised eyebrows, “a sprinter winning a mountain stage”). Though he’s not the best pick for a day-long breakaway, he’s got the juice to perform admirably in them, as indicated by his Time Trial palmares (U23 champion, two-time Norwegian champion). And Boasson Hagen – well, Boasson Hagen is still developing, but showing an ability to ride well in technical, hilly sprint finishes, as well as day-long breakaways with elevation renders him more than a sprinter in my book. Hushovd and Boasson Hagen took both two stages, hedging their bets against superior sprinters with long, impressive performances.

This year’s Tour had an array of B-level sprinters including Roman Feillu, Denis Galimzyanov, Sebastien Hinault, and Borut Bozic. Of them, Feillu drew the most attention with his reputation for kamikaze sprinting, and had the best performances with a handful of top-five sprints including 2nd behind Farrar on Stage 3. Galimzyanov’s 6th place on Stage 7 and 4th on Stage 11 were the best Katusha could muster. Hinault’s four top-tens were respectable, while Bozic could only muster two 8th places and a 10th – not the Tour that Vacansoleil was hoping for, and you can’t help but wonder if he and Feillu could have wrangled some superior results if they’d worked together a bit better.

If you hadn’t even noticed that I hadn’t mentioned Alessandro Petacchi yet, it’s because of Petacchi’s invisible performance during the Tour de France. He had an excellent Giro, having found some climbing legs after altitude training with Michele Scarponi, but his anonymous Tour was a far cry from his 2010 Green Jersey victory. If he’s targeting Worlds, he’ll probably need to ride the Vuelta, but will three Grand Tours fatigue him too much?

Did we miss anybody? Chime in below with your thoughts on sprinters’ performances in this year’s Tour de France.

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4 Responses to 2011 Tour de France – Sprinter Check-up

  1. bmj says:

    Cavendish had a very good tour, and turned in some impressive sprints, but he won the green jersey because the points system was stacked in his favor. Had there been more points available at sprints in the lumpy stages (as well as the mountainous stages), Hushovd, Boss-Hog, Gilbert, and perhaps Rojas would have prevailed.

  2. jacob says:

    I thought Greipel's win was significant because it represented one of the very few times I can ever remember someone actually going faster than Cav when Cav was at his top speed. I am trying to think of other instances in the last 4 years where someone beat Cav by coming out of the wheel and outgunning him, and I can't think of any. The perception has been that, irrespective of his leadout train, Cav is simply the fastest sprinter in the world. And while he certainly has a claim to that title, Greipel showed that, at his best, he can go faster.

    I put EBH in the non-category of Peter Sagan: he can do everything. He can sprint, he climbs reasonably well, he can ride in a breakaway, and he can TT. You have to wonder if he transforms into a GC contender as he matures.

  3. Pappy says:

    Pettachi beat Cavendish at the Giro a couple of years back in a two-up sprint on a curving finish in the first week – a very cool finishing scenario that showed a lot about who knew how to sprint while cornering. Also last August, Beletti beat Cavendish in a one-day Italian race where both were part of a 10 man break in the last 15km, but only finished 3rd. Of course there the Missile did not have his famous lead-out and wasn't at his 'top speed'.

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