It’s been a couple of months since the VeloVoices team last reviewed the progress of our selected riders to watch in 2012. I’m following three sprinters: reigning world champion Mark Cavendish, Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel and Liquigas’ Peter Sagan. Each of the three have added victories to their season’s tally since my last update, so here’s a quick run-down of how they have been doing in recent weeks.
Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Results: Won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Won one stage at Tirreno-Adriatico.
WorldTour ranking: 70th, 6 points.
It’s been an up-and-down couple of months – literally – for the world champion since we last checked in with him in late February. He won the Belgian semi-Classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of the month, applying the finishing touch in characteristic fashion, ducking out of Chris Sutton’s slipstream in the final after his Sky team had controlled the race perfectly.
From there, he went on to Tirreno-Adriatico in early March, where he won stage two after another textbook lead-out, this time by Edvald Boasson Hagen. He would have also contended the sprint the following day, but felt unwell and left it to Boasson Hagen to complete a Sky double.
Since then, however, things have deviated from plan. His victory at Tirreno-Adriatico should have been a good omen – the only previous time he took a stage there, in 2009, he also went on to win his major spring objective, the sprinters’ Classic Milan-San Remo. However, this year he was dropped with surprising ease on the tricky Le Manie climb at two-thirds distance and never recovered.
At the Flandrian one-day Dwars door Vlaanderen Cavendish missed the crucial break and then was felled by a stray bidon 15km from the finish, an incident which left him less than amused:
200km on Belgiums worst roads. All ok. 15km from finish, peloton’s riding easy & a dickhead throws a bottle in my front wheel. Crashed hard.
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) March 21, 2012
And again at Gent-Wevelgem four days later, he found himself following the wrong wheel at the wrong time, as the crucial split which launched Tom Boonen to victory disappeared into the distance.
Cavendish has not raced since, skipping the defence of his 2011 win at the Scheldeprijs to receive an altogether more important prize: the birth of his daughter Delilah, who arrived on the eve of the race:
Delilah Grace Cavendish was born a couple of hours ago. She & @petatodd are doing very well. So proud of my girls! Happiest day of my life.
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) April 3, 2012
Father and daughter seem to be doing rather well:
— Peta Todd (@petatodd) April 6, 2012
What price an Olympic gold medal or a sprint win in the Grande Boucle Feminine in 2032 for young Delilah?
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano, formerly Project 1t4i)
Results: Won Scheldeprijs. Won one stage at Three Days of De Panne. Second at the Handzame Classic.
WorldTour ranking: N/A. 10th in UCI Europe Tour rankings, 91 points.
Kittel has continued the impressive early season form which saw him take wins at L’Etoile de Besseges and a brace at the Tour of Oman. He recorded a second place (behind Francesco Chicchi) at the Belgian one-day Handzame Classic in mid-March, but since then has added two notable wins to his palmares to take his 2012 tally to five.
Fellow German Andre Greipel was among the scalps he claimed as he took victory in stage two of the Three Days of De Panne. And then last Wednesday he took advantage of Mark Cavendish’s absence to win the Scheldeprijs, proving to be both the fastest and the bravest as he held off Tyler Farrar on a treacherously wet finish in Schoten. It was a fine way to celebrate his team’s new identity, as the team formerly known as Project 1t4i became Argos-Shimano.
Best of all, it was confirmed last week that Argos-Shimano are one of the four teams granted a wild-card place at July’s Tour de France. It will be the perfect opportunity for the 23-year old to rub shoulders – possibly literally – with the likes of Cavendish, Greipel and Farrar on the biggest stage of all. I’m backing him for at least a couple of podium finishes and possibly a stage win somewhere along the line. From his reaction to the news on Twitter, I think it’s fair to say he’s quite excited at the prospect:
Our invitation is awesome and makes me so excited!! I would like to start already 2mrw…but still 85 days! -.- TIME! Y U NO ELAPSE FASTER?!
— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) April 6, 2012
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Results: Won one stage at Tirreno-Adriatico. Won one stage at Three Days of De Panne. Second at Gent-Wevelgem. Fourth at Milan-San Remo. Fifth at Ronde van Vlaanderen.
WorldTour ranking: 5th, 179 points.
It’s been a hectic couple of months for the 22-year old Slovakian power-house. He started March with a modest 26th place at Strade Bianche before staying in Italy to tackle Tirreno-Adriatico. After fourth and third-place finishes in the bunch sprints of stages two and three, he showed his power by claiming victory the following day, powering home at the top of the concluding 2.2km, 12.2% climb in Chieti.
Sagan has also been prominent at the finishes of several of the big Classics season one-day races. He was fourth at Milan-San Remo, winning the sprint in the pursuing group which narrowly failed to catch the three-man break headed by winner Simon Gerrans. After finishing 14th at E3 Harelbeke, he was the closest man to the unstoppable Tom Boonen at Gent-Wevelgem, taking a highly creditable second spot. And although he missed the critical move at the Ronde van Vlaanderen – again won by Boonen – his eventual fifth place propelled him to fifth in the latest WorldTour standings.
In between, he also won the opening stage of Three Days of De Panne, meaning he has three victories to date in 2012.
Previous update: February 20th