By Susan Westemeyer
Is it time for a generation change in the sprinters' ranks? It was not that long ago that the hottest young sprinter was Tom Boonen. However, at 26 years old, he now has to hand that title over to a 23 year-old Manxman – Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia.
Cavendish roared back from an unsuccessful Olympics to win the first two stages of the Tour of Ireland, which gives him 13 wins so far this season. Not counting jerseys or overall titles, he now leads the unofficial sprinters' ranking by one, over Boonen, who has 12 wins this season. Cavendish's team-mate André Greipel is in third with 10 wins.
Behind them come Juan José Haedo with eight, Thor Hushovd with seven, Oscar Freire with six, and Daniele Bennati with five. Some of the big names from the past are way down on the list: Erik Zabel with only one win this season and Robbie McEwen with three. Alessandro Petacchi had a good early season, but a doping related suspension caused a loss in wins.
Cavendish took his most notable wins in the two Grand Tours. He not only won two stages in the Giro d'Italia – four and 13 – but also generously decided to let lead-out man Greipel take a stage, too. The youngster then went on to his second Tour de France, determined to erase the unhappy memories of his 2007 appearance. He easily accomplished that, taking wins in Châteauroux, Toulouse, Narbonne and Nîmes.
He has a Grand Tour advantage over Boonen this year, riding the first two, while Boonen will ride only the Vuelta, where Team Columbia will not appear. The Belgian started the season in Qatar, where he won three of six stages, as well as the overall title. He also won the famed Paris-Roubaix.
Greipel started the year out with a bang, dominating the Tour Down Under. He took the non-ranked Down Under Classic, followed by four of six stages for the overall win. This was followed by the Giro stage win, and various other stage wins, including most recently the Eneco Tour.
All three are in action, with Cavendish in the Tour of Ireland and then the Tour of Missouri, Boonen in the Vuelta, and Greipel taking on the Deutschland Tour.