Fewer lead-out trains and smaller teams — how the sprinters became more versatile

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Arnaud Démare — Fewer lead-out trains and smaller teams — how the sprinters became more versatile - GETTY IMAGESArnaud Démare — Fewer lead-out trains and smaller teams — how the sprinters became more versatile - GETTY IMAGES
Arnaud Démare — Fewer lead-out trains and smaller teams — how the sprinters became more versatile – GETTY IMAGES
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Of the three stages expected to be won by sprinters at this year's Giro d'Italia, Arnaud Démare has won all of them. Following his photo-finish victory on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday’s wins looked easy for Démare.” data-reactid=”17″>Of the three stages expected to be won by sprinters at this year’s Giro d’Italia, Arnaud Démare has won all of them. Following his photo-finish victory on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday’s wins looked easy for Démare.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In the immediate aftermath of Démare’s latest win, a colleague asked: "Would I be wrong to suggest that the quality of sprinting is not very high right now?" It was a fair question, and one I will attempt to address.” data-reactid=”18″>In the immediate aftermath of Démare’s latest win, a colleague asked: “Would I be wrong to suggest that the quality of sprinting is not very high right now?” It was a fair question, and one I will attempt to address.

Rather than dismissing the current crop of sprinters as being poor imitations of those that came before, I would argue that those in the present simply have more varied skill sets.

Gone are the days of sprinters like Mario Cipollini or Mark Cavendish, both riders that, broadly, relied on strong lead-out trains. Whether it was ‘The Red Train’ of Saeco or the almost unstoppable HTC-High Road, when two of the best-drilled units were lined out in formation, it felt as if anything less than a stage win would result in an existential meltdown for not only the riders within the respective teams, but for viewers too.

Following the successes of Saeco and HTC-High Road, the sight of lead-out trains in the peloton became commonplace. Without one it was widely thought you could not win a sprint stage, until everybody had one but was unsure how to best deploy it. In the last few years, however, the full-on lead-out is less common.

At last month’s Tour de France only Sunweb and Deceuninck-Quick Step really adopted lead-outs for their sprinters Cees Bol and Sam Bennett. The outcome? The princely total of two stage wins, both for Bennett who also took home the green jersey as winner of the points classification.

The remainder of the sprints at the Tour were almost entirely won by a rider who was riding freelance to the finish, in other words without a posse of team-mates to deliver him to the final 150 metres.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Since the introduction of seven and eight-man teams — the latter in grand tours&nbsp;— squads can ill afford to send a dedicated squad of riders to protect their sprinter. Instead, he may get one pure lead-out rider, someone in the mould of Michael Morkov at Deceuninck-Quick Step or Maximiliano Richeze at UAE Team Emirates,&nbsp;plus a couple of versatile rouleurs.” data-reactid=”30″>Since the introduction of seven and eight-man teams — the latter in grand tours — squads can ill afford to send a dedicated squad of riders to protect their sprinter. Instead, he may get one pure lead-out rider, someone in the mould of Michael Morkov at Deceuninck-Quick Step or Maximiliano Richeze at UAE Team Emirates, plus a couple of versatile rouleurs.

In the absence of a dominant alpha sprinter, the field has been levelled. The modern-day sprinter needs to be versatile and able to bounce off the wheels, take care of himself when isolated and the wins where he can.

The quality of sprinting is no poorer now than in years gone by, it is just different. There is a school of thought that believes the modern-day sprinters are technically better, of that I’m not too sure. One thing I do know, however, is  that they are a whole lot more interesting to watch.