The Greatest Sprinters In Cycling History
A guide to some of the best sprinters cycling has ever seenIn the history of road cycling there have been numerous great sprinters. The guys (and girls) who often only see the front of the race for those few brief seconds as they cross the finish line with their hands held high.
It takes a daring risk taker to be a successful sprinter. That and a lot of leg speed and power to force the way through to front as the finish line gets closer combined with the balance of an Olympic gymnast. Modern times have seen the development of specialist sprint trains where teammates aim to deliver their leader to victory.
Some of the best riders in the history of the Tour de France have challenged for the legendary green jersey which crowns the best sprinter as well as winning classic races like Milan San Remo and the World Championships.
The difficulty in making decisions on the best cycling sprinters of all timeIt’s always going to be a challenge to specifically select the best sprinter in the sport’s histry. Many of the top names have dominated their own era’s. How would Freddy Maertens, the record holder for the number of stage wins in a single Grand Tour compare against the raw power in the final couple of hundred metres of Mark Cavendish.
Many commenter’s may never have seen some of the greats of days gone by which is why you often see articles protesting that riders like Cavendish are the best ever. Professional cycling now is significantly more organised with sprint trains which makes you think how others may have feared if they had other riders in their team specifically driving them towards the finish line. Riders like Robbie McEwan at times lacked significant team support and subsequently learnt the art of exceptional positioning towards the front of the bunch to use other riders to their advantage.
Which rider has won the most Grand Tour stage victories in the modern era?When you look at what makes a good sprinter great you have to look at how many stages they have won in the big big races of professional cycling. The Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are the Grand Tours and are arguably the standard by which it’s easy to judge the quality of a sprinter.
The rider than has won the most Grand Tour stage victories in the modern era of cycling is Mario Cipollini with 57 stage victories followed by Alessandro Petacchi with 48 victories throughout their careers.
Mario Cipollini The first rider to fashion a sprint trainMario Cipollini is the most successful rider in Giro d’Italia history with 42 stage victories. His emergence at the top of the sport in the late 80’s and 90’s saw Super Mario fashion the first sprint trains to lead him to victory across the finish line during his most successful days leading the Saeco team.
Regarded as one of the greatest sprinters of his generation, Cipollini added colour and a degree of controversy to the professional peloton with his strong character and refusal to stick to the cultural rules of cycling infuriated the sports governing body.
Cipollini was a marketing man’s dream and the sponsors of his teams certainly got their money worth in publicity. He once started a stage of the Tour de France dressed up to celebrate Julius Caesar’s birthday prior to the start line as well as being the first trendsetter to match yellow kit to a Tour de France yellow jersey. This practice is now commonplace in professional cycling however at the time infuriated the UCI and led to fines.
Cipollini’s bravado made him a cult figure in his native Italy but his alpha male behaviour has a love or loath effect for many. Despite this his sprinting pedigree is hard to argue against after he won the points classification at the Giro d’Italia on three occasions as well as a total of 57 Grand Tour stage wins. When you add into the mix a win in the World Championships in 2002 and victories in many of the sprinters classics you have an explosive sprinter who defined 90’s cycling.
Mark Cavendish wearing the Rainbow Jersey of World Champion
Mark Cavendish, one of the greatest sprinters in the history of the Tour de France in his World Champion jersey. He wanted to be a professional cyclist and a sprinter. Instead of taking the standard British route towards the top through track cycling Cavendish packed his bags and headed over to Europe’s hotbeds of cycling to learn his trade the hard way on the road. Cavendish actually spent two years working full time in a bank to gather the money to head into Europe for his first seasons racing.
The ‘fastest man on two wheels’ started racing with the German Sparkasse Team before moving on to the legendary T Mobile Team after winning a 2006 Commonwealth Games Gold medal on the track in Melbourne in the Scratch Race for his beloved Isle Of Man.
Early professional success for Mark Cavendish2007 saw Cavendish promoted to the T Mobile Team which saw him take a number of wins across Europe including tasting high level success at Grote Schildeprijs, as well as winning stages in races like the Volta a Catalunya, Four Days of Dunkirk and the Eneco Tour. His first professional season saw Cavendish equal Alessandro Petachi’s neo Pro record of 11 race wins.
2007 also saw Cav’s first appearance at the Tour De France. Although a number of crashes in the first few days of the race restricted his ability to get results and limited him to just top 10 positions. Cavendish withdrew from the race when it hit the mighty French Alps.
The Manx Missile and Tour De France SuccessCavendish started the 2008 season well with wins in sprint stages of both the Giro D’Italia and Tour de France under the newly developed Team High Road which later became Team Columbia as new sponsors came on board as T Mobile left the sport.
High Road and it’s later guises (Columbia and then HTC) saw the extreme potential of Mark Cavendish and geared the team towards being his sprint train with devastating effect over the next few years, Cavendish became a marketers dream when cell phone manufacturer HTC came on board as main sponsor with Cavendish at the height of his sprint powers winning stages 2, 3, 10, 11, 19 and 21 of the 2009 Tour de France He sprinted to victory on one stage into La Grande Motte in the Green Jersey with a salute as though on the telephone which will forever go down in photographic memory.
The 2010 Tour De France saw Cavendish winning stages 5, 6, 11, 18 and 20 to take his tally up to an impressive 15 stage wins. 2011 saw further Tour success with a win in the green jersey sprinters classification which had previously eluded him due to a pre eminent focus on stage wins not intermediate sprint results
Female cycling’s sprint superstar Marianne VosDutchwoman Marianne Vos is arguably the most versitile cyclist on the planet right now. A multiple cyclocross world champion, Olympic champion and world road race champion her palmares are the envy of her rivals.
Her ability to win from sprint finishes as well as her tenacity in smaller groups maskes her a fantastically talented all round racer.
Vos has won races consistently since her early years rising up in the sport in the bunch sprints which are relatively common in women’s races as well as being competitive from smaller breakaway groups.
The most terrifying sprinter in cycling Djamolodine AbdoujaparovYou don’t get a nickname like the Tashkent Terror without good reason. Djamolodine Abdoujaparov’s sprinting style almost looked like he did more sideways than forward movement but it was exceptionally fast with a reckless nature which alarmed fellow competitors.
## ## To cycling fans the ‘Uzbek Express’ will most likely be known for his crash with a roadside police officer on the Champs Elyses in Paris on the final stage of the 1991 Tour de France when leading the green jersey classification. The crash (in video below) was so bad that Abdoujaporov was unable to be acknowledged as the winner in the closing ceremony after being whisked off to a local hospital for treatment.
His sprinting style was an all or nothing and this led his to a total of 17 Grand Tour stage wins throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Each one was a torment for viewers worried for others’ safety yet this style has endeared him to many fans over the years for his tenacious attitude and aggressive sprinting. The Tashkent Terror was successful in claiming three green jersey Tour de France sprint classifications during his career marking him down as one of the best sprinters in the sport’s history.
Erik Zabel The most successful green jersey winner in Tour de France historyGerman sprint specialist Erik Zabel is officailly the most successful rider in Tour de France Green (Sprinters) Jersey history having won the jersey six times consecutively between 1996 and 2001 as part of a strong Team Telekom (later T Mobile) during an era which has sadly been blighted by pharmacological performance enhancement in the professional peloton which were inherently widespread. If you make the assumption he was competing against riders who were also doping at the time he still has to class as one of the greatest cycling sprinters of his era.
Zabel also won one of cycling’s key sprinters classics Milan San Remo (Also known as “La Primavera”) four times on a parcours made difficult by a number of challenging climbs. It should have been five wins but for Zabel celebrating.
In the video below you’ll see Erik Zabel taking you through the Milan San Remo course, the climbs and the incident where he lost the 2004 La Primavera to Oscar Freire by celebrating too early.