At the end of a truncated and interrupted 2020 season, four sprinters have emerged as the best of the best in the men's peloton, racking up 37 wins between them, including 10 Grand Tour sprint stages.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) lead our table of top sprinters, which has seen a decisive shake-up compared to last year.
That the fifth-placed rider on our list has one win in 2020 and not from a mass sprint, only illustrates the gap between the top four riders and the rest.
The impact of the shortened season is also evident, with the top of the table garnering 800 points fewer than last year's winner, while relatively few sprint stages at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España (four apiece) also had an effect.
Our tweaked points system from 2019 remains, with more weight given to Tour de France results over the other Grand Tours, while results from the WorldTour down to .1-level events are awarded points on a sliding scale.
With this being a sprinters-only ranking, we've done our best to cut out results that weren't from large bunch sprints. For example, Mathieu van der Poel's Tour of Flanders triumph and Peter Sagan's solo Giro stage win do not count, while points classification wins are also out of the equation.
That method changed little at the top, with Sam Bennett succeeding Caleb Ewan as the top sprinter of the season. The Irishman is a full WorldTour stage win ahead of second place, with his 1,591 points built on the back of two wins at the Tour de France as well as one apiece at the Tour Down Under and Vuelta a España.
Read on to find out who made the cut in Cyclingnews' top 10 sprinters of 2020.
|Race/race category||Points for 1st||Points for 2nd||Points for 3rd||Points for 4th||Points for 5th|
|Tour de France||250||125||75||50||25|
|Vuelta a España||150||80||40||20||10|
1. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 1,591 points, 7 wins
Change from 2019: Up three places
After enjoying a hugely successful season in 2019, Bennett has managed to improve even more thanks to his move to Deceuninck-QuickStep. A return to the Tour de France after four years away was the highlight, but the Irishman was in the winning way from his debut for the Belgian team.
Bennett kicked off his 2020 campaign with victory on the opening stage of the Tour Down Under, going on to pick up two further podium places at the race before winning the inaugural Race Torquay days later. He wouldn't win again for the first part of the season, but did pick up a second place at Hatta Dam at the UAE Tour.
Wins at the 2.Pro Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de Wallonie confirmed he was quickly up to speed after the COVID-19 induced break, but his best work came at the Tour. There was a victory on the pan-flat stage 10 to Île de Ré, while a second on the Champs-Élysées on the final day in Paris was his crowning glory. Three further podium placings, plus fourth on the opening day in Nice, saw him wrest the green jersey from seven-time winner Peter Sagan.
In October he headed to the Vuelta a España to take his seventh and final win of 2020 in Ejea de los Caballeros.
A top season for Bennett, then, and there's no reason not to think he can do more of the same in 2021.
2. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) 1,450 points, 14 wins
Change from 2019: Up seven places
The Frenchman has bounced back from a rather quiet 2019, in which he took just four wins, to take 14 this season – the most of any season since 2014, and the most of any rider this year.
Démare didn't win until after the COVID-19 break, picking up a podium in the UAE in February. Racing a largely different calendar to the rest of the top four afterwards, he grabbed a few podiums at the Vuelta a Burgos before taking victories at Milano-Torino, the Tour de Wallonie (two stages and the overall), the Tour de Poitou-Charentes (three stages and the overall), and a stage of the Tour de Luxembourg.
He became the French road race national champion in August, but wasn't part of Groupama-FDJ's Tour squad, which was built around Thibaut Pinot. Demare and his lead out train focused on the Giro d’Italia, where he won the points jersey as well as four stages along the way.
The theme uniting many of Démare's wins is a relative lack of competition from his rivals in this ranking. He shared few race days with his fellow top four finishers (16 with Bennett, 11 with Ackermann and 6 with Ewan), and 11 of his wins came with none of the trio present.
Still, you can only beat who's put in front of you, and he'll be hoping to test himself at the Tour next year.
3. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) 1,245 points, 9 wins
Change from 2019: No change
Third last year and third again, Ackermann had another top season, even if his Grand Tour racing was limited to the Vuelta. The German took eight wins in 2020, with 12 further podium spots bolstering his points tally during a consistent season.
He started the year as he ended it, in Spain, taking second places at two of the Challenge Mallorca races and a win at the Clásica de Almería, also taking a win at the UAE Tour before racing was shut down.
A couple of wins at the Sibiu Tour and two second places at the Tour de Pologne saw him up to speed quickly after the restart, also taking bronze at the European Championships before heading to Tirreno-Adriatico.
Two stage wins plus a podium in Italy, and two podiums at the BinckBank Tour led up to the Vuelta, where he proved the top sprinter, winning two of the mere four sprint stages at the race. A well-deserved third place on our ranking, but you can't help but feel it would've been good to see him fight with the best at the Tour de France.
4. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) 1,195 points, 7 wins
Change from 2019: Down three places
The Australian was a runaway winner last season with five Grand Tour stage wins and three further WorldTour wins on his resumé, but he's dropped slightly this season, despite no discernible drop in his ability.
There's still a case to be made that Ewan is the top sprinter in the world having raced a full 20 days fewer than Bennett and also matched the Irishman at the Tour with two stage wins.
Success came early in the season, too, with two stage wins right off the bat at the Tour Down Under and one at the UAE Tour – the only race that saw our top four face off against each other.
A second at Milano-Torino saw Démare best him on a rare meeting, while he grabbed a Tour de Wallonie stage win before heading to the Tour. There was a positive end to another successful season for the 26-year-old, too, with Scheldeprijs victory seeing him best Bennett, Ackermann and a host of other strong sprinters.
Head to head
Sprinters take their wins in a variety of different races and places, and 2020 was no different, with relatively few race days shared among our top-four-ranked riders. We've analysed each man's race days and taken a look at who they beat to rack up their wins.
One thing that may come as surprise is that Bennett actually lost the win match-ups against his three rivals, taking fewer wins than Ewan, Ackermann and Démare in the race days they each shared.
Bennett and Ewan shared the most race days at 45 – all but three of the Australian's race days saw him racing with Bennett. Wins at the Tour Down Under, UAE Tour, Tour de France and Scheldeprijs saw him take a 7-5 'win' against the Deceuninck-QuickStep man.
Former teammates Bennett and Ackermann shared 29 race days, with the German's 2-1 Vuelta tally, plus a win in the UAE, seeing him come out on top. Démare also edged out Bennett thanks to wins at Milano-Torino and Wallonie.
Ackermann and Démare both met Ewan on just 11 race days each, while the German and Frenchman met just twice – in the UAE and at the European Championships. It's a bit of a shame that these men battled each other so rarely this year, but hopefully 2021 will see the calendar get back to some semblance of normality.
In terms of total race days shared with at least one other rider in the top four, Bennett lies on 90, Ewan on 67, Ackermann on 46, and Démare on 33.
|Rider combinations||Shared race days||Major races||Head to head wins|
|Bennett & Ewan||45||Tour Down Under (6), UAE Tour (5), Paris-Nice (3), Milan-San Remo (1), Tour de France (21)||5 - 7|
|Bennett & Ackermann||29||UAE Tour (5), Paris-Nice (3), Euros (1), Vuelta (18)||1 - 3|
|Bennett & Démare||16||UAE Tour (5), Burgos (5), Milan-San Remo (1)||2 - 3|
|Ackermann & Ewan||11||UAE Tour (5), Paris-Nice (4), Milan-San Remo (1)||1 - 2|
|Démare & Ewan||11||UAE Tour (5), Milan-San Remo (1)||3 - 2|
|Démare & Ackermann||6||UAE Tour (5), Euros (1)||0 - 1|
For more context on how the top four took their wins, we looked at how many results they each managed to get when racing against other riders in the top four. Both Démare and Ackermann racked up the wins against lesser fields with eight and five each, although Démare also took three wins when up against Bennett and Ewan.
The latter duo both took all of their wins against at least one other top sprinter, meanwhile. The UAE Tour was the only occasion where the four met each other on the road, with Ewan and Ackermann taking a stage apiece.
|Rider name||Alone||vs 1||vs 2||vs 3|
5. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 725 points, 1 win
Change from 2019: Up one place
It was a year of consistency rather than the spectacular for the Bora-Hansgrohe star. Amid chatter of a decline, Sagan took just one win, albeit a spectacular (non-sprint) one. The Slovakian did manage to rack up nine further podiums across the season, with eight of them coming at WorldTour level – the main source of his ranking points.
He kicked off his year with one on the final stage of the Vuelta a San Juan, plus two at Paris-Nice. Upon the return to racing, he finished fourth at Milan-San Remo and then looked decidedly off top form at the Tour, where he took a third place among two fourths and two fifths.
Sagan was runner-up in the points classification both there and at the Giro, where he took his best results of the year in the form of four second places (one in a non-sprint finish) and that solo win in Tortoreto. He's far from a spent force, then, but the 30-year-old might struggle to challenge the pure sprinters in future if 2020 is anything to go by.
6. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 596 points, 6 wins
Change from 2019: Up nine places
Another rider who's more of an all-rounder than a pure sprinter, Van Aert showed off his talent on just about every terrain imaginable in 2020. He won Classics, was runner-up at the Worlds time trial, and was a mountain domestique at the Tour.
He took several sprint victories, too. Despite winning Milan-San Remo, 'the sprinters' Classic' doesn't count here with Van Aert beating Julian Alaphilippe in a two-up dash. Instead, his points came almost exclusively at the Tour, a third place at Milano-Torino aside.
The 26-year-old was fastest to the finish on stages 5 and 7 in France, also finishing third in a very tight finish in Poitiers, site of the Sagan shoulder barge. It was the best year yet of Van Aert's nascent road career, and there'll only be more to come – although with cobbles, Classics and time trials to focus on, he won't be a pure sprinter.
7. Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) 555 points, 3 wins
Change from 2019: New entry
The young Belgian had a quietly consistent year, grabbing results throughout the calendar, despite a relatively low win tally. However, the Hagens Berman Axeon alumnus won at the 2.1 Tour du Limousin as well as the BinckBank Tour and the Vuelta a España – his first Grand Tour stage victory.
He racked up podiums through the season, too, with two at the Tour Down Under, as well as one apiece at the Tour of Luxembourg, BinckBank Tour and Vuelta. Still at the tender age of 22, it looks like the only way is up for Philipsen.
8. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) 540 points, 6 wins
Change from 2019: Down one place
Philipsen's teammate Gaviria had a tougher time of it in 2020, with the Colombian enduring yet another season undermined by bad luck. He started off well, taking three stages at the Vuelta a San Juan plus a podium at the UAE Tour before he caught COVID-19 at that race, his last before the season shutdown.
He took two more wins upon his return to racing at the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour du Limousin, as well as grabbing a few podiums at Tirreno-Adriatico and winning the Giro della Toscana.
However, at his only Grand Tour of the season – the Giro d'Italia – his 2020 ended miserably, testing positive for COVID-19 once again mid-race and leaving without a top five to his name. It's safe to say that Gaviria will be hoping for a much better 2021.
9. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) 505 points, 3 wins
Change from 2019: New entry
Rather than being focused on sprints year-round, the Danish ex-world champion built his placing from a select few top-level results, including two wins at WorldTour level.
Pedersen beat Ackermann at the Tour de Pologne and BinckBank Tour to take his two sprint wins of the season, with a second place on stage 1 of the latter race also contributing points. He bookended the Tour de France with two second places in Nice and Paris, which along with a fifth place mid-race aided his vault up into our top 10.
10. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) 467 points, 4 wins
Change from 2019: New entry
The Italian enjoyed a good season in 2020, taking two of NTT's three WorldTour wins this season. Still, his low score is indicative of the fractured season – last year, 467 points wouldn't have merited a top-20 place in our ranking.
A win at the Tour Down Under and second at the Race Torquay in Australia saw him gather points early on, while he triumphed again on stage 2 at Paris-Nice. Nizzolo's biggest success, however, came at the European Championships road race in France, where he beat both Démare and Ackermann in Plouay.
He had a disappointing Tour campaign, though, finishing third on stage 3 before leaving the race on stage 8 due to a knee injury. We've yet to see where he'll end up next year, but if he can sustain his 2020 form, he should be further up our next list.
|#||Rider name (Team)||Points|
|11||Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates)||377|
|12||Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb)||320|
|13||Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix)||281|
|14||Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma)||275|
|15||Cees Bol (Team Sunweb)||270|
|16||Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic)||267|
|17||Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep)||231|
|18||Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept)||226|
|19||Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep)||225|
|20||Álvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep)||221|
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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