I’m following the progress of three sprinters in 2012: reigning world champion Mark Cavendish, 1t4i’s Marcel Kittel and Liquigas’ Peter Sagan. Each of the three have now completed two early-season stage races, and all three will be delighted to have registered their first wins already. Here’s a quick summary of how they have been doing over the last few weeks.
Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Races: Tour of Qatar, Tour of Oman.
Results: Won two stages in Qatar.
Cavendish traditionally eases his way gently into the season as he looks to build form for the spring Classics. This year has been no exception as he has had to deal with the additional complication of bedding in to his new team, Sky.
Cav got off to a bad start before his 2012 debut at the sprinter-friendly Tour of Qatar, suffering a crash and illness in the days before the race which meant it was a couple of days before he was fully up to speed. He contested three sprints in all, winning stages three and five and then crashing out within sight of the finish line on the final stage. However, it quickly became clear he wasn’t that badly hurt when he tweeted the following morning:
Ooooo. Very stiff neck this morning. Feeling a bit battered. How to solve it? Walk it off with some shopping! That’s how!
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) February 11, 2012
However, things did not go so well in Oman, where Cavendish would have targeted the flat finishes on stages one, three and six. However, he was blocked off on the opening stage, hesitated fatally two days later before finishing a lowly eighth, and found himself out of position on the final stage, drifting in a distant 14th. His misfortunes suggested a degree of rustiness on his part, but are more down to two other factors: a Sky lead-out train which is at present unconvincing and a greater degree of competition in the sprints this year, with Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan all capable of dominating a bunch finish in the right circumstances.
Even though things didn’t go his way in Oman, he was still in characteristic good humour in marking the occasion of teammate Bernhard Eisel’s birthday on Friday:
Bernie Eisel’s 31st birthday today! As a gift, I shall not get dropped on the climb so he doesn’t have to wait for me. #generous
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) February 17, 2012
Marcel Kittel (Project 1t4i)
Races: Etoile de Besseges, Tour of Oman.
Results: Won one stage at Etoile de Besseges and two in Oman.
The young sprinter hit the headlines before he had even turned a pedal in anger, as a story broke in the German media alleging that he had received a banned UV treatment when ill in 2007 and 2008. However, it soon became apparent that he had done nothing wrong, as the treatment was perfectly legitimate at that time, and the 1t4i team came out quickly in full and public support of Kittel.
Undeterred, he opened his 2012 campaign in France at the Etoile de Besseges, where he finished second behind FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni in the bunch sprint on the opening stage before going one better the following day.
Moving on to the Tour of Oman, he was fourth behind Andre Greipel on stage one before turning the tables with an impressive long sprint on stage three in which he held off both the charging German and Bouhanni. He was understandably ecstatic on Twitter afterwards:
Great day for us today! Thx to my teammates for keeping me out of trouble during the final! 🙂 The win gives a lot of confidence. Yeah!!
— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) February 16, 2012
Better still, he triumphed on the final stage in which all the major sprinters featured, with his team putting him in the perfect position to beat Peter Sagan and Tyler Farrar to victory. With three wins already under his belt, Kittel’s fantastic start to the season will have strengthened 1t4i’s case for receiving one of the four wild-card invites to the Tour de France, which are due to be announced next month.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Races: Tour of Qatar, Tour of Oman.
Results: Two third places in Qatar. A win and two second places in Oman.
Sagan’s primary aim this year is the Olympics, and to a lesser extent the Tour de France. However, a pair of thirds and a fifth in Qatar confirmed he is there or thereabouts in terms of early-season form.
On the kind of uphill finish he favours on stage two in Oman, Sagan powered away to take a dominant four-length victory. He followed that up with a pair of second places: the first behind Greipel – who is very much the man of the moment in the sprints – on stage four, followed by another runner-up spot behind Marcel Kittel on the closing stage. Sagan may not quite be in top form yet, but his power on uphill sprints and his high level of consistency bode well for a successful season.