Going into the new WorldTour season, it’s uncertain who the best sprinters are, or even whether one is a head above the rest. Almost all the big names have raced and won races, but no single driver has been able to clean up, set the tone, and dominate.
In San Juan, Argentina, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fernando Gaviria (Movistar), Sam Welsford (DSM) and Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal Quick-Step) all won, while in Etoile de Bessèges, Arnaud De Lie ( Lotto- Dstny) won twice and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) won in Valencia.
Jayco AlUla’s Dylan Groenewegen had a chance to prove his place in the box at last week’s Saudi Tour; Get a win on the podium. He said he was satisfied after the game, but it was clear he wanted more.
“We’re very happy and happy with the result,” said the Dutchman. “As a sprinter you always want another one and we were close to this. The second stage could have been won and then went too early today. I was a little late in the second stage and today came It was too early. It was a tough sprint, maybe too hard for me, but it was a good try.”
Perhaps ominously for his rivals, Jayco has stepped up their sprint training with Zdenek Štybar and Lukas Pöstleberger, and it seems to be working well: “I think I’m really good, and the team. We lost each other last year A lot, but now we are off to a really good start. The team is doing really well and we know what to do now and for the next races.”
Groenewegen’s next race will be the UAE Tour, where he will meet some other standout sprinters in his first real encounter of the year: Soudal Quick-Step’s Tim Merlier, Bennett and Lotto-Dstny’s Caleb Ewan will be there, along with newcomer Mark Cavendish from Astana-Kazakhstan, where he will meet his designated leader, Cees Bol, for the first time.
In Saudi Arabia, Ball enjoyed a productive week with his new team, finishing third twice and finishing sixth overall. How he interacts with Cavendish will be very interesting.
“There are a lot of guys who can win sprints, especially because the track isn’t always perfectly flat and very easy to sprint,” he explained to Cycling Weekly. “I think you’ve seen this year that different people have won the sprint races.
“The level has generally improved, there’s more knowledge about how to train a rider on a specific part of the bike. Maybe more riders are purely focused on sprinting than there were ten years ago.”
Gone are the days of specific teams being challenged in sprints, HTC Highroad vs Quick-Step vs Lotto, and everyone involved. Maybe last year’s obsession with UCI points reminded teams that winning races is important, and that you can do it if you have a fast driver.
“Almost every team has a good sprinter and a good sprinter behind him,” Ball said. “Over the last few years, it’s been more like two or three people than a full lead train.
“You need everyone, but you don’t necessarily need them at the finish. You need strong drivers and then two or three guys who can do the last 2km. Until then, it’s just commitment.”
All of the aforementioned riders will be eager to put one on their competitors. Even in a race like the Tour of Saudi Arabia, Gronewegen’s thunderous look as he finished second was enough to show just how important it was. Last year’s rankings are out of the question and it all depends on how fast you can now.
“Last year’s form doesn’t matter, you just have to start playing and give your best,” Ball said. “In the final you see who’s organized and who’s not. If you’re not organized in the final, it doesn’t matter if you’re at their wheel. But for sure, seeing some guys doing well after the winter It’s fun, but that can be changed next month.”
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