Kristoff leads sprinters to Tour de France

The Norwegian has 18 wins so far this season, but several riders will challenge him in the mass gallops to the finish line

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MILAN (VN) — The Tour de France overall winner will be determined in a little more than a month, but before the race reaches Paris the sprinters will fight for around seven stage victories. Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), thanks to his 18 wins so far in 2015, appears most likely to benefit.

For the overall win, most followers count four cyclists — the “Bigs” or the “Fab Four:” reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Sky), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

The sprints are more wide open, but the Tour should feature two sprint kings, Kristoff and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), after each tallied victories in the lead-up races. Of the likely Tour sprinters, they are the only two with double digits in the 2015 win column: 18 versus 13. Others, like André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), have a healthy count, but not nearly as many. And last year’s top sprinter, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), has yet score an official win after a virus knocked him out for the first part of the season.

Just like the overall battle with American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), there are outsiders that could upset the favorites when the bunch races toward the stage finishes. Below, we examine the cyclists who could likely raise their hands in victory over the 21 days.

While Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) were racing for the overall, Kristoff polished off his pre-Tour win count in the Tour de Suisse. It was not that win, nor the ones in Qatar, Oman, and Norway that sparked attention, but his amazing classics run: second in Milano-Sanremo, first in the Three Days of De Panne, first in the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and a win in Scheldeprijs. His newborn baby should inspire him to match or better his two Tour wins from 2014.

Cavendish should find inspiration from 2014. Though he counts 25 career Tour wins, he has never worn the yellow jersey. His dream to do so last year crashed to the ground in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate, England, on stage 1. He returned from his dislocated shoulder with newfound energy. Over the winter, he raced six-days to build speed and transferred it to wins: one in San Luis, three and the overall in Dubai, three in Turkey, four in California, and the one-day races Clasica de Almería and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. The only thing missing this season for cycling’s modern day sprint king is a UCI WorldTour win, which could come as early as stage 2.

Greipel is focusing on quality instead of quantity this year, which shows with nine victories. After bagging wins in Algarve, Paris-Nice, and the Giro d’Italia, he ended his early-season run with two stage wins and the overall in the Ster ZLM Toer. His next goal is the Tour, where he has won six stages.

John Degenkolb (Giant), who has Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in his win count of five, will be the favorite in the rolling to flat stages like stage 13 to Rodez. Giant will place more attention on him since its star Kittel, winner of four stages in 2014, is still coming to top speed. He already counts wins in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) has stage wins in both the Giro and Vuelta as well. After missing last year’s Tour due to a crash on the eve of the race, the 24-year-old “Bling” is back to lead the Aussie team in the sprints. He already counts four victories for 2015.

Like Degenkolb, Sagan is not a pure sprinter. His ability to climb has helped him to three green jerseys. He will aim for a fourth jersey, another stage win to add to his four already, and to resurrect his season. Sagan flopped in the classics, but rebounded to win two stages and the overall in California, and two stages in Suisse. To make team owner Oleg Tinkov happy, though, he will need to up his season win count of six with a big one in the Tour.

Several other sprinters could pop up in the bunch kicks to surprise the big two, including Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ), American Tyler Farrar or MTN-Qhubeka teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. Only when stage 2 finishes in Zélande will followers have a better idea of who will rule the 2015 Tour’s sprints.

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