Category: Marcel Kittel

Here’s why this year’s Tour de France has been so cruel to the sprinters

L’ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) — Cycling’s fastest men are dropping like flies at this year’s Tour de France.

Three Alpine stages have decimated the race’s lineup of heavy sprinters, with some of the peloton’s marquee fast men either abandoning or being eliminated by the time cut. The carnage began on stage 11 from Albertville to La Rosière, which saw Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw (both Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) all finish well behind the stage’s time cut.

The dynamic continued during stage 12, a 175km stage to l’Alpe d’Huez. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the first sprinter to abandon, and then Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Bellisol) called it quits. Also abandoning was Rick Zabel (Katusha), who was time cut on stage 11, but allowed to continue because he suffered a mechanical.

“I cannot remember ever seeing something like this.”

– Rolf Aldag

In total 12 riders left the race during the two stages.

“I cannot remember ever seeing something like this,” said Dimension Data manager Rolf Aldag, who raced the Tour 10 times during his 16-year pro career. “There were always sprinters in difficulty but in two days we have seen a challenge.”

Now, just three sprinters with bunch-kick Tour victories are left to contest the remaining flat stages: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). And second-tier fast men like Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), may seize an opportunity to win.

VeloNews spoke with riders and team sources to better understand why so many sprinters left the race, why some sprinters survived, and whether the Tour de France organizers need to adjust the rules.

Mark Cavendish finished stage 11 but was well outside the time cut. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Reasons for the exodus

This Tour’s three-day run through the Alps was unquestionably punishing, yet previous races have included similarly hard routes. So why did so many sprinters fail?

Riders and directors pointed to various reasons. The shrinking of teams from nine to eight riders has forced some teams to choose riders for the GC instead of the sprint, which has decreased the size of the grupetto that forms on sprint stages. Modern training methods and specialization have perhaps widened the gap between sprinters and climbers.

“There is a feeling that the pace is very fast this year,” said Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). “It was clear from the first mountain day that the real sprinters were going to have to fight to get in the [cutoff] time.

All sources that VeloNews spoke with pointed at stage 11 as the primary culprit for the exodus. Just 108km long (67 miles), the stage included three successive and sizable climbs, with almost no flat road. It was yet another experimental route organized by ASO to inject excitement into the Tour. And it was sandwiched between two other punishing stages in the mountains.

“It was ridiculously hard,” said Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida). I’ve never done a stage like that in my life.”

The short, punishing route meant that the sprinter grupetto had to ride a stiff tempo just to avoid the time cut. For every stage, the Tour sets the time cut as a percentage of the winning time. Which percentage organizers choose is based on a convoluted system that factors in the overall difficulty and average speed of the winner. Sprinters often rely on flat roads to narrow the gap to the front group on climbing days. Without much flat, sprinters had to push themselves on the climbs harder than they may have done on a longer stage.

“It was ridiculously hard. I’ve never done a stage like that in my life.”

– Heinrich Haussler

The effort to simply survive was huge, and it had consequences for Thursday’s stage to l’Alpe d’Huez.

“If a sprinter had to go full-gas yesterday, then there was nothing left today,” Aldag said after Thursday’s stage. “There was no way to recover property overnight and get ready for a big stage like today.”

The pace did not slow down on stage 11 to l’Alpe d’Huez, as an early breakaway attacked on the Col de la Madeleine, forcing Team Sky rode a hard tempo to keep the move in check. The aggression shed the sprinters within the opening kilometers of the stage. That tempo only increased throughout the day, as Sky’s domestiques poured on the pace.

The grupetto fell further and further behind. Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Groenewegen were first to be dropped, and eventually gave up after determining they could not make the time cut. Gaviria and Greipel were next.

John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) said Sky’s intense pacing at this year’s Tour added to the challenge.

“The problem is Sky is so strong. They go their own pace and still they are with a full team at the front, so the distance to [sprinters] only grows,” Degenkolb said. “That pace is too high for me and a lot of guys to stay close.”

Thor Hushovd, twice a winner of the Tour’s points classification, believes another factor may have contributed to the loss: June races. In recent years the peloton’s fastest sprinters have chosen to race the Amgen Tour of California and Tour of Slovenia, rather than tackle traditional warm-up races Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse. By choosing this option, the sprinters miss out on long, punishing stages in the Alps.

Sagan and Démare both raced the Tour de Suisse.

“A lot of these guys didn’t do a stage race with bigger hills in it, and they are perhaps missing those efforts,” Hushovd said. “I always needed to do the Dauphiné to get used to the hills. That was an important part of the preparation for me.”

Marcel Kittel was also time-cut on stage 11. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

How some survived

Teams saw the potential for time cuts during stages 11 and 12 and prepared specific strategies to help their sprinters survive the Alps. Degenkolb focused on a pacing strategy to help him survive the Col de la Madeleine without falling too far back. Directors had teammate Michael Gogl stay behind with Degenkolb to pace him up the Col de la Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez. Degenkolb finished 32 minutes in arrears.

“It was important for me not to over-pace myself on the first climb,” Degenkolb said. “I knew that 1km into the first mountain I would never see the bunch again, so I had to simply let it go and then ride at a pace I was comfortable with to the finish.”

Other teams employed a completely different strategy. Bora-Hansgrohe predicted the time cut would be approximately 38 minutes for the stage. Directors had Peter Sagan ride near his limit to the top of the Col de la Madeleine in order to stay as close as possible to the front group. Sagan then chased on the descent before settling into a comfortable rhythm. He rode to the finish alongside his teammate, Daniel Oss.

“Peter’s finish line was the top of the Madeleine,” said Sagan’s coach Patxi Vila. “So then you have 38 minutes to lose over two climbs. Downhill you go the same speed as the front group. So that is 19 minutes to lose on each [climb]. That’s 1.5 minutes per each kilometer, and he can do that.”

John Degenkolb rode a planned pacing strategy alongside teammate Michael Gogl to survive Thursday’s stage 12 to l’Alpe d’Huez. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The fallout

The day after the abandons, calls to permanently widen the time cut echoed through the peloton.

“I think the time cut was too narrow,” said Brian Holm, director at Quick-Step. “When you see somebody like Greipel lose it — and he is quite good in the mountains — it leads you to believe it is too narrow.”

Aldag said the Tour should adjust the cut for shorter stages that feature mountains.

“When the length of racing is only three and a half hours in the mountains then there is simply no time to make it up,” Aldag said. “You only have up, down, up, down, there’s no flat to take it back.”

Indeed Tour officials did extend the cutoff time during Thursday’s stage to Alpe d’Huez, however, the decision was made midway through the stage, after Gaviria, Greipel, and Groenewegen all quit. That decision was puzzling to riders in the peloton, even those who survived the day.

“You only have up, down, up, down, there’s no flat to take it back.”

– Rolf Aldag

“You saw many sprinters abandon yesterday because we had a tight time cut. We started the day and we thought we had 30 minutes and we thought it would be hard,” Kristoff said. “They moved the cut during the stage which was a bit strange. We were fighting for half an hour and suddenly we have 40-minute time cut. It’s strange when they change the rules during a race.”

Whether or not Tour organizers extend the cut remains to be seen. What is known is that the Tour’s sprinters will face a similar dynamic in the Pyrenees, where climbs, a short 65km stage, and intense racing are all on tap.

Read the full article at Here’s why this year’s Tour de France has been so cruel to the sprinters on VeloNews.com.

A sprinter’s nightmare: Cavendish and Kittel out of Tour

The challenging climbs that made stage 11 of the Tour de France a thriller for the GC contenders proved too much for star sprinters Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin).

The fast-finishing duo, as well as Cavendish’s lead-out man Mark Renshaw, came across the line well outside the time limit of 31:27 behind stage winner Geraint Thomas (Sky) on Wednesday.

For Kittel, it’s a disappointing end to his first Tour with new team Katusha on the heels of a dominant campaign that saw him take five stage victories last July. For Cavendish, it marks a second straight Tour without a win. Two seasons ago, his 30 career Tour stage victories seemed so close to Eddy Merckx’s record of 34, but Cavendish will now have to wait until next July to have another shot at adding to his total.

“We wanted to come in hot and win some early stages and see how we go in the first week. Neither materialized for us,” Dimension Data team principal Doug Ryder said. “It didn’t materialize for Cav and for what we wanted to achieve. He misses the time cut today, it’s obviously disappointing, for him, for us.”

Stage 11
Stage 11 was a delight for the climbers, but it was miserable for the sprinters. Photo: Tim de Waele | Getty Images

Tuesday’s stage 10 had already seen a number of riders cutting it very close to the day’s time limit. Cavendish and Kittel crossed the finish in Le Grand-Bornand among an 11-rider group just 30 seconds before the time cut. With that in mind, stage 11 was always going to be a major challenge. The parcours featured a pair of hors categorie ascents and closed with a category 1 summit finish at La Rosière. Dimension Data knew that making the time cut would be a tall order.

“Everbody expected this. It was this stage and the 65-kilometer stage that was challenging,” Ryder said. “It was definitely a concern.”

Cavendish was suffering early in stage 11, gapped and bringing up the back of the race by the summit of the first categorized climb, 26 kilometers into the day. He initially had Renshaw and Jay Thompson to help but waved them on ahead as his situation worsened. That allowed Thompson to make the cut, although it wasn’t enough to save Renshaw.

“He’s a champion. He doesn’t just give up. But he started to realize that we weren’t going to make it too, so that’s why he told us to go and he’d try for himself,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, we did what we could but it isn’t what it is. The Tour de France isn’t easy.”

Kittel spent the day a bit farther up the road than Cavendish but still marched up the final climb well behind any of the larger groups that might have provided wheels to sit on. His lieutenant Rick Zabel was up the road fighting to stay in the race himself. As it became clear that the clock was ticking down, Zabel made a dash for the line. He technically rolled home mere seconds outside the limit, but the race jury granted him clemency, noting in the jury report that he had suffered a mechanical while far removed from any support vehicles.

Kittel, however, was too far back to save his Tour, and it would be the same story for Renshaw and Cavendish. All three did finish the stage to applauding fans, but that would be their only consolation for the day’s hard work. Cavendish headed to the team bus without speaking to media.

Stage 11
The climbers finished, and then many minutes later, Cavendish and Kittel came home. Photo: Tim de Waele | Getty Images

Cavendish’s Tour exit is just the latest in a series of disappointments for Dimension Data going back to last year. Cavendish abandoned the 2017 Tour after getting tangled up with Peter Sagan in stage 4 and breaking his scapula. He fell on the same shoulder blade at the Abu Dhabi Tour this January and abandoned that race. In his return to racing at Tirreno-Adriatico, he crashed in the opening team time trial and broke a rib. He still managed to make the start shortly thereafter at Milano-Sanremo, but crashed again and broke another rib.

Dimension Data had hoped that Cavendish could ride his way into form at the Tour de France, but they’ll need to look elsewhere for results now.

“It wasn’t what we expected at the start and we were hoping that if we could get Cav through the mountains, we’d have another chance to win on Friday and that he’d get better,” Ryder said. “But I guess it wasn’t to be.”

Fred Dreier and Andrew Hood contributed to this report from La Rosière, France.

Read the full article at A sprinter’s nightmare: Cavendish and Kittel out of Tour on VeloNews.com.

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Read the full article at Tour stage 4: Sprinters wind up for fast finish on VeloNews.com.