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Dash to the Line

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The battle between the sprinters of the peloton is set to be fiercer than ever this season. Who's going to come out on top?

Who will come out on top in 2016?
Who will come out on top in 2016?
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

The Sprinters:

André Greipel

Greipel Wins TDF Stage Five Amiens

(Eric Feferberg, AFP/Getty Images)

Age: 33

Team: Lotto-Soudal

2015 wins: Sixteen, including four Tour de France stages, Vattenfall Cyclassics, a stage of the Giro d'Italia and a stage of Paris-Nice.

In his favour: Greipel was the best sprinter of 2015 when it counted - in the Tour. He was the only one of the top sprinters to do the Giro, which he rode half of, winning one stage, to tee him up for the Tour. It was an unexpected twist for the race to take - while Greipel's previous best Tour tally had been three, those had been in 2012, when second place on the three stages he won were Matt Goss, a thirty-eight-year-old Alessandro Petacchi and Peter Sagan. This year he was up against a far more competitive field, beating them.

Against him: First of all, he's the eldest of the top sprinters. He'll be thirty-four by the end of next year's Tour, and sprinting is one of the hardest disciplines in which to maintain a long career. Secondly, nothing in his past career suggests he's as good as a fully fired-up Cavendish or a Kittel who's not suffering from illness.

Verdict: While indeed he has never been as good as a full strength Kittel or Cavendish, I think it's just as likely that neither of them will be full strength for next year. Regression to the mean has been a phrase oft bandied about in the last fortnight, and it's useful again here. A stage or two of the Tour is what we can expect from the Gorilla. We're a long way away from Cavendish talking about Greipel as disdainfully as he did when he was winning races from Matt Hayman.

Mark Cavendish

Cavendish Dubai

Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)

Age: 30

Team: Dimension Data

2015 wins: Fourteen, including a stage of the Tour de France, the Dubai Tour and three stages, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and four stages of the Tour of California.

In his favour: On his best form, he is the fastest man on two wheels. Arguably, he's also improved his train. He still has his trusty leadout man, Mark Renshaw, but after a few years at Sky, the Manxman has even got Highroad team mate and friend Bernie Eisel back. As well as those two, Team Dimension Data have Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg and Tyler Farrar.

Against him: He hasn't been at his best for three years. In 2013 he was bested by Kittel, in 2014 he barely got any chance when it counted, and in 2015, he was second best to Greipel in the Tour.

Verdict: Cavendish is going to go down fighting. I don't think he'll be the best sprinter in 2016, but he'll fight all the way.

Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel

(BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Age: 27

Team: Etixx-Quickstep

2015 wins: One, a stage of the Tour de Pologne.

In his favour: Very little, if you don't look back very far. His 2015 season was assailed by illness from start to finish, and by the time he was back to winning ways, it really wasn't salvageable. However, if you look back further, you see that he was the best sprinter in 2013 and 2014, winning on the Champs-Elysées, along with three other Tour stages both years. He also had two short stints in the yellow jersey. This year, he's also moving to a new team, with an arguably better sprint train.

Against him: Could the year of illness have blunted his form? Other than that there's not much to say, apart from mentioning that he might be the worst climber of the fastmen.

Verdict: Can he get back to his old form? I think he will, for no other reason than because he persuaded Etixx to take him. If that happens, he's as good as any of his rivals, and there's no reason to think he won't be straight back to winning ways.

Conclusion

These are the three best sprinters in the world, and they will win the flat stages when it counts, but it would be ridiculous of me to assume it's going to be as simple as one dominating. While all of them are riding the Tour, only two are starting the Giro, and come on, they aren't going to finish it. Also, they will be beaten at times by riders like Kristoff, Degenkolb, Sagan, Pelucchi, Modolo...the list goes on. However, they will win when it counts, and it's difficult to choose who'll be the best. This is looking like a great year for sprinting. Three very fast men are on very level footing, so I'm expecting a very even, and very interesting year, as flat stages go.

If you were to ask me who's going to win the first sprint stage of the Tour, I wouldn't know what to tell you, it's impossible to say, but I do know it doesn't matter, because I'm fairly sure it's going to be very entertaining indeed.