One of the biggest stories leading into the 2022 Tour de France was whether Quick Step will select young sprinting star Fabio Jakobsen or 34-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish to lead them on sprint stages. That was resolved today with Jakobsen’s selection. That significantly clears up what should be a very compelling sprint battle between two young stars – Jakobsen and Alpecin’s Jasper Philipsen – and a host of veterans including Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen, Peter Sagan, and Wout van Aert.
Who are the best sprinters?
I’ve written this year about my Bunch Sprint Model which evaluates sprinting success based on finishing position solely in sprints a rider contests while also considering the strength of opposition a riders sprints against again considering only those opposing sprinters who contested the sprint. You can read more about methodology and results at this link. Think of this model as looking to identify the best sprinters if they all had a chance to sprint against one another.
Back in February this model loved Fabio Jakobsen due to a very high hit rate in sprints he actually contested. Since then, Jakobsen has continued to sprint at a high level with six wins on a variety of parcours, while Jasper Philipsen performed very well at UAE Tour and then hasn’t done much since. This model evaluates the two of them as neck-and-neck on top of the sprinting world.
Behind them, the model rates Cavendish 3rd and Olav Kooij 4th. Cavendish failed to be selected, while Kooij also couldn’t rate selection on Jumbo-Visma’s GC focused squad. Caleb Ewan (5th) and Wout Van Aert (6th) are the other two elite sprinters at this year’s Tour. Van Aert has only participated in a bunch sprint seven times in 2022, but six have been podiums.
Further down the list are veterans like Alexander Kristoff, Dylan Groenewegen, Peter Sagan, and Mads Pedersen. Kristoff landed Stage 1 and the yellow jersey in 2020, but hasn’t won a World Tour sprint since. Sagan has had multiple covid bouts, but finally landed his first win in Tour de Suisse a few weeks ago. Pedersen might be more of factor on the more classics-like finishes as three of his five 2022 victories have come on either uphill finishes or finishes with a small climb right before the finish.
Groenewegen has been a bit in the wilderness due to his suspension, being eclipsed by younger riders at Jumbo Visma, and his subsequent transfer to Bike Exchange. He’s won five times this year, but has only a single podium finish in World Tour sprints. He’s actually won his last three contested sprints across three sub-World Tour races, but was dropped on several climbs in Dauphine and left that race without contesting a sprint.
The only other sprinters it makes sense to mention are Team DSM’s Alberto Dainese and Bike Exchange’s second sprinter Michael Matthews. Dainese won a shock victory in Stage 11 of the Giro, but doesn’t have another finish better than 5th in a sprint all year. Matthews is really more of a tough parcours sprinter at this point in his career as his only wins since 2020 have come in one day classic Bretagne Classic and on a tough stage of the Volta a Catalunya this spring.
Ewan’s Lotto Soudal Team Changes Strategy
Caleb Ewan’s Lotto Soudal team has a well established approach to grand tours since landing Ewan in 2019. They’ve brought the 6th, 2nd, and 2nd heaviest lineups to the last three Tours de France and 4th, 5th, and 4th heaviest to the 2019, 2021, and 2022 Giros – driven by big engines like Roger Kluge, Jasper De Buyst, and Thomas De Gendt. Beyond the size of Ewan’s teammates, they relied on experienced riders to back Ewan, regularly trotting out lineups where 3-4 riders had ridden 25+ bunch sprints with Ewan in recent seasons. That element will be different in 2022 as while they will again have one of the heaviest starting squads, Ewan’s teammates have very little experience supporting him in sprints. Riders like Kluge, De Buyst, and recent additions Michael Schwarzmann and Rudiger Selig were left out in favor of more classics focused engines like Frederik Frison and Florian Vermeersch. It will be interesting to see if their tactics shift more towards Ewan surfing wheels rather than utilizing a big sprint train.
Jasper Philipsen was always a highly touted sprinter, landing three World Tour stage wins before his 23rd birthday, but he was squeezed out of UAE Team Emirates by veteran sprinters and the team’s GC focus around Tadej Pogacar and transferred to Alpecin for the 2021 season. There he has blossomed into potentially the best sprinter in the pro peloton thanks to a massive 2021 season.
His 2021 story was inextricably tied to Mark Cavendish as he was Cav’s main opponent in his breakout Tour of Turkey in 2021 (Cav landed four wins to Philipsen’s two) and again he kept coming up short to Cavendish in the Tour de France where Philipsen reeled off six stage podiums, but couldn’t score a win. Philipsen followed up the Tour with two Vuelta stage wins and four one day race wins, including on cobbled terrain. If the cobbled stage 5 turns out to be less vicious than expected it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Philipsen sprinting for the win as he’s handled similar terrain in the past.
Bike Exchange All in For Groenewegen
Before Bike Exchange’s team announcement there was all possibility of them sending a balanced team to chase GC or stages with Simon Yates, but instead they’ve gone all in on Groenewegen and Matthews as of their announced team only Nick Schultz is anything of a climber. They will likely have the heaviest lineup at the Tour at 73.75 kg; that would also be the heaviest of any team at the Tour since Lotto Soudal’s 2016 team built around Andre Greipel and his sprint train. Bike Exchange will hope that extra power will allow them to keep Groenewegen up front during potentially windy stages 2, 3, and 4.
|Team||Average Weight of Riders in KG|
Fabio Jakobsen + Michael Morkov
Michael Morkov’s dominance as a leadout man has been well established in recent years as he’s guided Sam Bennett and Mark Cavendish to back-to-back green jersey wins and six Tour de France stage wins. Of course combining him with Fabio Jakobsen should produce good results. However their success in 2022 has been massive with Jakobsen winning five of seven sprints he has contested with Morkov in the lineup.
It’s difficult to know which are the best leadout riders on Quick Step as the team is just phenomenally well drilled overall, but it seems like Jakobsen has ridden more with the ‘B’ team than the elites. Since last July when Jakobsen started sprinting again he’s ridden most often with Florian Senechal and Bert Van Lerberghe in bunch sprints. On the other hand, Cavendish has been most often deployed with Morkov and Davide Ballerini.
I’ve written in the past about how tough it is to evaluate sprint helpers and that the best guide may just be to look at how teams deploy riders in different races. With a start in 2022, Morkov will now have raced four straight Tours for Quick Step (2019-22) – as well as the 2022 Giro with Cavendish. Compare that record to Senechal and Van Lerberghe. Senechal has ridden just two grand tours (neither the TDF) in that time period, while Van Lerberghe has similarly raced just two grand tours and won’t feature in this TDF either. While Quick Step’s full sprint train might be a bit lighter than past years, combining Jakobsen with Morkov could still produce tons of success.
Van Aert’s Green Jersey Bid
Van Aert appears to be a massive favorite for the green jersey points competition as his odds – even after a minor injury last week – sit at 1.65 (implied at around 56%). He benefits from a race bereft of many true sprint stages (only four are evaluated in the Tour regulations as flat stages: 2, 3, 19, 21) where true sprinters could challenge him, while there are also a lot of classics-esque and medium mountain stages where he should find great success from a reduced peloton.
|Year||Stages evaluated as flat by organizers|
This graph above shows the result of a model which considers whether a rider was able to survive in the group and sprint for the win (finish in top 25 in a bunch sprint race) depending on the climbing difficulty of the parcours. Something like stage 6 into Longwy or stage 8 in Lausanne would rate a 5.5 on this scale, while the flat stages 2 and 3 would rate <1. Stage 10 which features a long, shallow drag to the finish in Megeve would rate just off this scale ~8.5.
Van Aert, Matthews, and Philipsen show fairly consistent ability to stick with the front group as climbing intensifies, but the other sprinters show degraded abilities on tougher terrain – particularly Jakobsen and Groenewegen.
It will be a huge advantage for Van Aert that he has been >85% to survive to the sprint finish regardless of the difficulty of the climbing that day. His ability to survive on those tougher sprint days like stages 4, 6, 8, 13, and 15 and to even get into the break on harder days will make him tough to defeat.
Looking at the last 10 points competitions, we can split up the source of points between finish-line sprints and intermediate sprints. Finish-line sprints can be accrued by being a great bunch sprinter, while intermediate sprints can be accrued by getting breakaways or by tactically out-sprinting opponents on the road. In the last 10 competitions, the green jersey winner ranked 1st in points from finish-line sprints 8 times and 2nd twice. The record on intermediate sprints was more mixed with Kittel, Cavendish, Bennett, and Sagan twice taking green without gathering the most intermediate sprint points. We haven’t recently seen someone take green by dominating intermediate sprints and not being one of the two best on finish-line sprints. Will Van Aert be one of the two best sprinters on finish-line sprints?
If not, the market shows Jakobsen and Philipsen as the best odds among pure sprinters. Jakobsen won the points jersey at 2021 Vuelta and might look to follow Cavendish and Bennett and Quick Step green jersey winners. Philipsen was fairly close to Jakobsen in points competition when he abandoned Vuelta, but he managed only 4th in green jersey race in 2021 Tour de France due to hardly contesting intermediate sprints.