As part of my preparation for the forthcoming season as a gambler, a thinker on cycling, and an FSA VDS obsessive, I like to think through the key riders across each of the broad categories of races. What follows is a list of the most prominent sprinters, and my thoughts on whether I anticipate a better season (buy) a worse season (sell) or something akin to 2016 (hold) in the coming year. Conor, Chris and I have looked at a few where we see fortunes changing in the first ever PodCafSt.
If this is popular, I’ll run similar pieces (mostly written already) on other categories of riders (the cobbles specialists, the GC racers, and the hilly “classicists”), with an aim to covering all the big riders before the VDS deadline. Feel free to use the comments to provide constructive feedback and vitriolic abuse.
Before we start, though, a general comment on the world of sprinting as we come into 2017. I think it will be a year without a dominant sprinter. Consider the table below, showing total wins.
Wins by the "Big 3"
It is pretty hard to look at that and not see a trend, which, in my opinion, will continue and increase into next year; the biggest name “pure sprinters” are losing their dominance. Of course there’s noise in that data – Kittel’s down year in 2015, the emergence of Sagan and other hardmen/sprinters (who I haven’t considered in the column below), etc. Still, I have a lot of “buy” ratings on riders below, and I’m happy with that. You’d have been right every year since 2014 to say “this is the most open year for sprints in ages” and I think you’d still be right in 2017.
Kittel: SELL. I’ve started with a tough one, and I have no confidence in this sell. We all know that on his day he’s unbeatable, but we also know he’s not been the most consistent. I am sure he’ll win his races, but this should be his time as the unquestioned fastest man, and I’m not convinced he will be. 2016 saw a few big wins but the competition will be stiffer in 2017. May find some competition within his team ranks, too, and has lost a big engine in his leadout train.
Greipel: SELL. Reluctantly, as he’s admirably consistent and a consummate pro – and I love him for his helper work in spring as much as for his sprinting. On an objective basis, though, he will turn 35 on the day the Tour visits Aubrac for stage 15, and there can’t be many in the peloton with more kms in their legs. He’ll win a fewraces, but consistency and a devastating kick will leave him at some stage, and it could easily be this year.
Cavendish: BUY. It feels like he’s been around since God was a lad, but he’s only 31. Plenty of miles on the clock and I don’t think he’ll ever be back to his extraordinary best, but his focus will be back on the road after the Olympics last year, and I’d expect him to be among the top sprinters for another couple of years at least.
Groenwegen: BUY. It is only reasonable to see him improving. At 23, he’s growing in experience and racing wit, and his team are more dedicated to him. The question that remains is how good he can be – is he at the same level as the Cavs and Kittels of the world, or a notch below? We should find out in 2017.
Matthews: Not sure he’s entirely a sprinter, but he’s a BUY. I think there were too many cooks spoiling the broth at Orica last year, and having free reign should give him an excellent chance in most finishes that are too tough for the guys above. Sagan, Degenkolb, Gaviria and Kristoff will feature in a subsequent post.
Demare: HOLD. A cycling site (that won’t be named) said of his 2016 season that it was disappointing, other than the Milan-San Remo win. I don’t know what to say to that – it is cycling’s version of “other than that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln”, no? He’s a good sprinter who will have his chances. He’ll win some races and pick up some podiums – just as he has over the last few years.
Bouhanni: BUY. I don’t think he’ll get any faster next year but I do think he’ll get more opportunities on the biggest stages. I haven’t space here for my views on his shenanigans, but he knows how to finish bike races and he’ll win plenty of them.
Coquard: BUY. He won an absolute stack of races last year and is part of the reason Direct Energie should have more chances this year – chances he’s well positioned to take. Fourths in Amstel Gold and Brabsante Pijl impressed the heck out of me, too, as I didn’t realise he had that kind of grit. I’m ready for a big season from him.
Ewan: HOLD. I suspect most would be buying. He’s talented, for sure, but is he ready to step forward on what he did last year – winning in Hamburg, among four wins, as well as a podium in the Giro? I don’t think so. He needs to step forward, and Orica (more on their GC ambitions in a subsequent post) need to demonstrate a dedication to supporting him. Maybe in 2018. I’m very aware that posting this around the start of TdU has the potential to make me look a berk very early, but I don’t really think that beating an undercooked Sam Bennett tells us much about his progress.
Lobato: SELL. I read that moving away from Movistar would help him. Anyone writing that is presumably not watching Groenwegen in the same races I am. Will be second choice, at best, at Lotto, who also have a bunch of climbers to protect. Nice enough sprinter but never shown top-level class for me.
Modolo: SELL. Nothing against him as a rider, but plenty are improving around him and the Lampre mess won’t help.
Bonifazio: BUY. I really rate this kid and there’s as much “heart” as “head” in this pick, but he’s proven to be a good finisher on the tough days. Something of Bling about him, and he could surprise in something like Milan-San Remo (for which I’ve backed him) or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, especially if the gales blow and there’s spray. Unclear if he’ll get his chances at Bahrain but I think he will. Trek, as I’ve said elsewhere, might well come to regret letting him walk.
Barbier: BUY. Come on, you weren’t expecting anything else, were you? Not if you read my blog. Broerie (with his personal knowledge and insight, which isn’t fair) has tempered my expectations a little but I am going to stick to my guns. He’ll make some noise this year.
Enger: BUY. I think there will be enough sprints to go around for both him and Barbier, and they can help make AG2R something of a force this year. Probably not yet his year to dominate but he’s potentially special. Don’t know what they’re doing to produce cyclists in Norway at the moment, but it is working.
Bennett: HOLD. Impressed me with his toughness in last year’s Tour, and did pick up some wins, but I am yet to be convinced he’ll become the superstar others seem to project. Still, he should pick up some podiums, and Bora’s WT status can only help.
Viviani: BUY. As with Cav, a return in focus from the track to the road will help. Sky will never be a sprint-first team but they’ve got enough engines to help him on the right days and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him nick a Giro stage or two. One of many who might be around and about in San Remo.
Hofland: HOLD. Hey, remember when he was the next big thing in sprinting? That was fun. No wins last year and moving to Lotto Soudal means the first race he’ll need to win is against Greipel, Debusschere, and the array of sorta-kinda-sometimes sprinters who’ll be competing with him to be the protected sprinter for any given race. He’s a hold because he can’t win fewer races than in 2016, but I’m not convinced he’ll win many more.
Nizzolo: SELL. Winning the points classification without picking up a stage win is a neat trick, which he’s pulled off in the last two Giri (in which, to be fair, he’s come as close as you can to being awarded a victory, one way or the other). Often there or thereabouts but not a huge winner, especially against the bigs. He’s another one who’ll find the fields more competitive in 2017, I think, and I can’t see him repeating his points victory or retaining his national title.
Swift: HOLD. Truth in writing: I wrote lists of sprinters twice, and he was the guy I forgot to add both times. I don’t know… he’s fine. Nimble enough to get over hills, finishes nicely, will pick up some VDS points and do a job for a new team. He’ll get more opportunities than he did at Sky, but I just don’t see him setting the heather alight, as they say in my adopted home. Loves Milan-San Remo and with good reason; it is his best chance of success.
McClay: BUY. Not much of a name yet, but I added him to my list because I wanted to give him a mention. He’s a talented young lad and I don’t think last year’s 3rd in the Tour will be his last GT podium. A question mark over how many chances he’ll get with his current team but keep an eye on him. As his positioning and stamina improve you’ll see just how fast he can make his bike move in the last couple of hundred metres.