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2024 Looks Like a Great Year for Sprinters

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Soudal–Quick-Step’s Tim Merlier continued the bright start to his season by winning Wednesday’s sprinter-friendly Nokere Koerse for a third consecutive year. Fabio Jakobsen (DSM-Firmenich-PostNL) finished second and last year’s Tour de France Škoda Green Jersey winner, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), was third.

The 31-year-old Belgian came out on top after a chaotic finish in which, in trying to avoid running into another rider, he bumped into Philipsen’s Alpecin-Deceuninck teammate Jonas Rickaert and set off a mass crash. “My chain came off for a moment, so it was a bit of a panic,” he said after the race. Once he fixed the problem, he began a long, powerful sprint from the start of the brief final climb,  which his rivals could not match. “Suddenly, I got into the slipstream and I saw a gap,” he explained. “I thought I’ll try it from afar like the previous two years and then we’ll see.”

The win was Merlier’s sixth of the young season after he won two stages at the AlUla Tour and three stages at the UAE Tour. He looks to be in the form of his life and may be strong enough to be a green jersey factor at the coming Grand Tours.

But he’s not the only sprinter who has enjoyed a great start to the season. Lidl Trek’s 23-year-old sprinter Jonathan Milan has won three stages, including two impressive victories at the recent Tirreno-Adriatico where he won the race’s green jersey over the likes of Milan, Philipsen and Israel–Premier Tech’s Corbin Strong.

Jonathan Milan
Jonathan Milan celebrates his win of the final stage during the 2024 Tirreno – Adriatico. © Profimedia

And then there is 22-year-old Olav Kooij of all-conquering Visma–Lease a Bike who has won the Clasica de Almeria, a stage of the UAE Tour, and two stages at Paris-Nice where he outlasted the veterans Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek), Michael Mathews (Jayco AlUla) and Sam Bennett (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale).

Everyone this year has focused so much attention on the upcoming Tour de France and its four superstar rivals – Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar – that we have overlooked the sudden plethora of sprinters that have muscled their way into prominence, especially with the coming of age of Kooij and Milan. The two showed promise last year – Kooij won four stages at the Tour of Britain and one at Paris-Nice, while Milan won a stage and the points classification at the Giro d’Italia – but both seem to have upped their game and look set to fight for more Grand Tour victories this year and perhaps even challenge Philipsen’s Tour de France supremacy.

On the other hand, Merlier is a veteran who has already won a stage at both the Tour and the Giro but in the form he has so far shown, he seems to have moved up a level and could be prominent in the Grand Tour this year  – but not at the Tour where teammate Philipsen is boss. Philipsen established himself as the premier sprinter on the road by winning six Tour de France stages in 2022 and 2023, and winning the Tour’s Škoda Green Jersey last year. The 26-year-old Belgian has had a modest start to the season, winning a stage at the Tirreno-Adriatico and finishing third in Wednesday’s Nokere Koerse. But he is probably playing the long game, building himself up to be at his best at the Tour again. And he has the world’s best leadout man in Mathieu van der Poel, so he will be a very formidable opponent when that race comes around.

Add to these sprinters the prospect of the greatest of them all, Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan), trying again to win his 35th Tour de France stage and finally breaking the record for the most Tour stage wins he now shares with Eddie Merckx – and you have the recipe for some dramatic Tour de France stage finishes. But after winning a stage at the Tour Colombia, the 38-year-old Briton has had a very rough spring, failing to finish the UAE Tour due to illness, Tirreno-Adriatico – where he didn’t make a stage time cut – and the Milano-Torrino, because of a cold.

Bad things can happen on the road but before he dropped out of those three races, Cavendish never came close to finishing a stage, his 17th place in stage 5 of the UAE Tour representing his best finish outside of South America this year. Let’s hope this is just a momentary setback, and that Cavendish will be in form and part of the Tour de France sprints, which could be almost as dramatic as the yellow jersey battle this year.