Ranking the top 10 male sprinters of 2021

Philipsen Cavendish Ewan top male sprinter 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images/composite)

At the end of each season, we take a look back through every sprint of the season, rolling out the unique Cyclingnews points formula to objectively rank the top fast men of the season. 

Last year, Sam Bennett (opens in new tab) came out on top ahead of Arnaud Démare, Pascal Ackermann, and Caleb Ewan, but 2021 has brought a comprehensive shake-up at the top of the standings as only the Australian remains among the top five sprinters of the year.

By our calculations, two men have come out on top of the sprinting universe this season, though not by dominating the sprints all year as was the case with our 'big four' last time out.

Jasper Philipsen (opens in new tab) and Mark Cavendish (opens in new tab) both won big but were also consistently picking up points all year – including at smaller races – while other contenders have struggled with either form or injury, more often than not missing those valuable Grand Tour sprints as a result.

We'll leave further analysis until later on so we can get to those long-awaited top ranking spots. A quick note on the process first, though. As usual we've done our best to cut out results that weren't achieved in large bunch sprints. That means that wins like Wout van Aert's over Mont Ventoux and Sonny Colbrelli's at Paris-Roubaix don't count here.

That means that results from groups of at least 20 or 30 riders are counted, then, with some exceptions in case of mass sprints that occurred after late crashes. As ever, races from the .1 level all the way up to the WorldTour are counted, with points awarded on a sliding scale.

The points system has been slightly tweaked this year in order to points for those who picked up points jerseys along the way, though that addition had no major bearing on the final ranking.

Without further ado then, here is Cyclingnews' top 10 sprinters of 2021.


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Our ranking formula
Race/race categoryPoints for 1stPoints for 2ndPoints for 3rdPoints for 4thPoints for 5th
Tour de France (and points jersey)250125755025
Giro d'Italia (+ points)200100603015
Vuelta a España (+ points)15080402010
WorldTour races (+ points)1207035155
.Pro races (+ points)754020--
.1 races (+ points)402010--

The top two

1. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) 1,940pts, 9 wins

Vuelta Espana 2021 - 76th Edition - 2nd stage Caleruega - Burgos 166,7 km - 15/08/2021 - Jasper Philipsen (BEL - Alpecin-Fenix) - photo Miwa Iijima/CV/BettiniPhoto©2021

Philipsen's two stage wins at the Vuelta a España helped him top our ranking (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Change from 2020: Up 6 places

The top spot might come as a surprise to some, especially given the events of the Tour de France in July, but it's the 23-year-old Belgian who comes out on top for 2021, a testament to his consistent racing from March to September.

The season saw him pick up 26 top-five placings – including points competitions, remember ­– across the year, one more than our second-placed man Mark Cavendish. 

Philipsen's racing at WorldTour level (13 top fives with three wins) that has put him on top (compared to Cavendish's six top fives with five wins). His nine wins in 2021 include the sprinter's Classic Scheldeprijs ahead of a host of top names, two stages of the Tour of Turkey ahead of Cavendish, two stages at the Vuelta a España, as well as the Eschborn-Frankfurt WorldTour race and three other semi-Classics to end the season.

There were no wins at the Tour de France, however, which will count against Philipsen for some – especially as he finished on the stage podium behind Cavendish for each of the Manxman's four victories there. 

The points total says what it says, but it was a very close-run thing at the top here, and you could really make an argument for either of our top two as 2021's fastest sprinter.

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2. Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 1,775pts, 10 wins

CARCASSONNE FRANCE JULY 09 Mark Cavendish of The United Kingdom and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Green Points Jersey celebrates at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 13 a 2199km stage from Nmes to Carcassonne LeTour TDF2021 on July 09 2021 in Carcassonne France Photo by Chris GraythenGetty Images

Cavendish is second on points but often had the beating of Philipsen (Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Change from 2020: New entry

After a troubled few seasons in the peloton, Cavendish returned to the top of the sprinting world with a bang this season. 

Having kept his career going with a Deceuninck-QuickStep deal late in the winter of 2020, the 36-year-old rode himself back to the peloton's sprinting summit, culminating in a magical four-win haul at the Tour de France which gave him his second career green jersey and put him equal in the all-time Tour stage win rankings with the great Eddy Merckx.

The year started out well with podium spots at the GP Monseré, Settimana Coppi e Bartali, and Scheldeprijs, before he came up with a quartet of impressive victories – against Philipsen and old rival André Greipel – at the Tour of Turkey.

In June, when his teammate, last year's Cyclingnews sprint ranking – and Tour green jersey – winner, Sam Bennett struggled with a knee injury and a spat with his team boss Patrick Lefevere, Cavendish found himself in the Tour squad – a scenario few thought possible back in January.

The rest was history, as Cavendish and the imperious Deceuninck-QuickStep lead-out train swept to victories in Fougères, Châteauroux, Valence, and Carcassonne en route to the maillot verde. 

October brought another win at the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, his tenth of 2021 and more than any other sprinter, but Cavendish still falls just short of our number one spot – not that he'll be losing much sleep over it with four more Tour de France stage wins on  his palmares.

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Our 'big two' met each other in 15 sprints over the course of the 2021 season, in the Scheldeprijs, Tour of Turkey, Elfstenronde, Baloise Belgium Tour, and Tour de France. 

Philipsen and Cavendish shared 11 wins between them in those race days, with the Elfstenronde and Belgium the only races where neither man triumphed.

Despite our points system placing Philipsen on top of Cavendish, in terms of head-to-head wins it was all about the Manxman, and it wasn't particularly close.

Philipsen took advantage of Deceuninck-QuickStep's sprinting with Cavendish and Bennett at Scheldeprijs to beat both men as Cavendish took third, while at their next meeting in Turkey it was Cavendish who came out on top.

Arvid de Kleijn beat them both on day one of the race, but then Cavendish struck back with a phenomenal three wins in a row as teammate Fabio Jakobsen made a welcome return to the peloton. Philipsen took victories in Marmaris and Turgutreis before Cavendish won the final stage, making it 4-3 in his favour.

Alpecin-Fenix went with Tim Merlier at Elfstenronde, the Belgian beating Cavendish into second as Philipsen finished 16th. Cavendish the took a win at the Baloise Belgium Tour later in June, though Philipsen had abandoned a day earlier.

Then came the Tour – the real difference-maker between the duo. Philipsen started promisingly with a second-place behind teammate Merlier on the crash-marred stage 3, but from that point on he and his Alpecin-Fenix train were outmuscled by Deceuninck-QuickStep and Cavendish.

Four wins and a green jersey later, the year's main sprint rivalry ended on the Champs-Elysées as Philipsen took minor bragging rights by taking second ahead of Cavendish in Paris.

Final score for the season – Cavendish 8, Philipsen 3.

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3. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) 1,145pts, 6 wins

CATTOLICA ITALY MAY 12 Caleb Ewan of Australia and Team Lotto Soudal Giacomo Nizzolo of Italy and Team Qhubeka Assos sprint at arrival during the 104th Giro dItalia 2021 Stage 5 a 177km stage from Modena to Cattolica girodiitalia Giro on May 12 2021 in Cattolica Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Ewan was at his crafty, freestyling best to win stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia in Cattolica (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Change from 2020: Up 1 place

Ewan won our rankings two years ago with a mammoth 2,420 points, but this year he has largely been held back by bad luck and crashes despite taking six wins, four of which came at WorldTour level.

The Australian started out the season with a target of taking a stage win at each Grand Tour on his mind, a la Petacchi. After kicking off his year with a UAE Tour stage win and a second runner-up spot at Milan-San Remo in four seasons, he headed to the Giro d'Italia and knocked out two stage wins in the first week, including a dominant victory in Termoli.

He was out the next day, though, suffering knee pain while Eddy Merckx of all people accused him of disrespecting the race. Two more wins at the Belgium Tour a month later looked to place him as the man to beat heading into the Tour de France.

But, as it did for many riders in the first few days, disaster struck for Ewan on stage 3 after he hit the deck in the closing metres of the stage. He was out with a broken collarbone, his dreams of a Grand Tour triple over. He recovered quickly and in September, he'd take a final season win at the Benelux Tour, but 2021 ended up far from the season he had envisaged at the start of it.

Ewan's 12 Grand Tour days contrasts with Philipsen's 31 and Cavendish's 21 – a key factor in the points difference here. 

He'll no doubt be back next year, targeting Milan-San Remo once again as well as a home World Championships in Wollongong.

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4. Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) 1,100pts, 9 wins

NOVARA ITALY MAY 09 Tim Merlier of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix celebrates at arrival during the 104th Giro dItalia 2021 Stage 2 a 179km stage from Stupinigi Nichelino to Novara girodiitalia Giro UCIworldtour on May 09 2021 in Novara Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Merlier opened Alpecin-Fenix's Grand Tour win account on stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Change from 2020: Up 9 places

As well as Philipsen and Mathieu van der Poel, 29-year-old Merlier was one of the reasons Alpecin-Fenix ended the season as the sixth-ranked men's team in the world this year. 

He racked up nine wins, including a debut Grand Tour stage victory for the team in Novara on stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia.

The day after Van der Poel had taken the win and yellow on the Mûr-de-Bretagne, he added a Tour de France stage win to his palmarès, too. He left France after nine stages, by which time the team had chosen to go with Philipsen for the sprint on stage 4 and 6 instead of him, which proved a contentious choice in hindsight.

Later in the season, following his tearful exit from the Tour, he'd add two wins at the Benelux Tour to his season haul, which also included Le Samyn, the GP Monseré, the Bredene Koksijde Classic, the Ronde van Limburg, and the Elfstenronde by then.

With two Grand Tour stages and two more WorldTour stages under his belt this season, 2021 was the year Merlier established himself as a top, top sprinter.

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5. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 1,090pts, 13 wins

PARIS FRANCE JULY 18 Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team JumboVisma celebrates at arrival ahead of Mark Cavendish of The United Kingdom and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Green Points Jersey during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 21 a 1084km stage from Chatou to Paris Champslyses LeTour TDF2021 on July 18 2021 in Paris France Photo by Chris GraythenGetty Images

Van Aert completed a memorable treble of Tour de France stage wins on the Champs-Elysées (Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Change from 2020: Up 1 place

You'd suspect Van Aert could easily top this ranking if he were to focus on sprints. The only problem is that he's so good at everything else in the sport and so has other goals as well as sprints.

The Belgian took 13 wins this season – as much as anyone in the peloton – though only four of those were in sprints. Among the others, though, were two time trial wins, Gent-Wevelgem, Amstel Gold Race, the Tour of Britain, and that Mont Ventoux stage at the Tour de France.

His sprints, for the record, saw him beat Ewan at Tirreno-Adriatico and then beat Philipsen and Cavendish on the Champs-Elysées before bookending his dominant Tour of Britain victory with two sprints.

Van Aert probably isn't going to be topping this ranking anytime soon, given his goals in the Classics, time trials, and helping Jumbo-Visma at the Tour. He'll be fine with that, though, and most fans would agree that the sport is all the better for that.

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6. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 1,090pts, 7 wins

DE PANNE BELGIUM MARCH 24 Arrival Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Celebration Jasper Philipsen of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix during the 45th Oxyclean Brugge De Panne 2021 Men Classic a 2039km race from Brugge to De Panne OxycleanClassic on March 24 2021 in De Panne Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Bennet's biggest win of the year of two halves came at the Classic Brugge-De Panne (Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Change from 2020: Down 5 places

Bennett topped our list last year after taking two Tour de France stages plus the green jersey and a stage at the Vuelta a España, among seven victories. This year has been a different story, though, as – much like Ewan – he has been undone by bad luck.

His two-year spell with Deceuninck-QuickStep has come to an acrimonious end with team boss Patrick Lefevere castigating him in opinion columns over the knee injury which has ruined his season and seen him finish the season without a Grand Tour stage to his name for the first time in four years.

He started the year in great form, picking up two stages apiece at the UAE Tour and Paris-Nice and then winning the Classic Brugge-De Panne, too. The team's botched finale at Scheldeprijs was the only blotch on his spring copybook, though two months later he was back to winning ways with another two stages and the points jersey at the Volta ao Algarve.

All was set up for another fantastic summer, but that was the point where it all unravelled. The final stage in Portugal would be the last race he'd complete in 2021 as his knee kept him out of the Belgium Tour and then the Tour de France.

He returned to the saddle in September after Lefevere had reportedly begun a legal dispute over Bennett's wages, seeking to withhold them. Four race days and four DNFs followed as Lefevere was forced to pay him in full to end the year. It wasn't the way anybody – least of Bennett – would have wanted to end a campaign which had promised so much just months earlier.

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7. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 1,065pts, 5 wins

MILAN ITALY MAY 30 Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Team Bora Hansgrohe Purple Points Jersey celebrates at podium during the 104th Giro dItalia 2021 Stage 21 a 303km Individual Time Trial stage from Senago to Milano Champagne ITT UCIworldtour girodiitalia Giro on May 30 2021 in Milan Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Sagan added a Giro d'Italia points jersey to his seven at the Tour de France (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Change from 2020: Down 2 places

Last season, Sagan placed fifth on our ranking despite only taking one victory all year – that long-range solo break at the Giro d'Italia. This year, he has won three sprints, including another Giro stage and the points jersey, and yet he's down two spots.

His Tour de France performance is the reason for the difference. Last year he racked up six top-five placings at the race, in contrast with two fifth places before leaving the race due to knee pain after crashing with Ewan.

Still, Sagan has had a good year, even if it looked like another confirmation that his peak is behind him. He knocked out a sprint win apiece at the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie, and was also in the mix at Milan-San Remo, finishing in fourth place following a very quiet start to his season at Tirreno-Adriatico.

2022 brings a reset for the three-time world champion as he moves to TotalEnergies. He'll be 32 next year, and at this age he's unlikely to rediscover his past top-end speed going forward. 

Could this have been the best sprinting season left in Sagan's career?

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8. Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 1,030pts, 7 wins

Vuelta Espana 2021 - 76th Edition - 4th stage El Burgo de Osma - Molina de Aragon 163,9 km - 17/08/2021 - Fabio Jakobsen (NED - Deceuninck - Quick-Step) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/BettiniPhoto©2021

Jakobsen's Vuelta a España stage triple completed a memorable comeback from his 2020 Tour de Pologne crash (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Change from 2020: Up 9 places

Just over a year ago, the discussion around Jakobsen was centred on whether he'd be able to resume his racing career following his potentially life-altering crash at August's Tour de Pologne. By November he was back on the bike and aiming to be back racing within a year.

Now, a year on, he's in our top 10 sprinters of the year with seven wins under his belt – including three Vuelta a España stages and the points jersey. It has been a remarkable turnaround for Belgian who returned to racing at April's Tour of Turkey.

He announced his return to the sprinting elite at the Tour de Wallonie three months later and then went on to beat the likes of Philipsen, Arnaud Démare, and Michael Matthews in Spain. Victories at Gooikse Pijl and the Eurométropole Tour followed, completing what must be the feel-good story of the season alongside his own teammate, Cavendish.

Of course, Cavendish took his wins with the Deceuninck-QuickStep 'A team' lead out – Michael Mørkøv, Tim Declercq, Kasper Asgreen et al – while Jakobsen did without the big guns. 

It's not yet obvious who the number one sprinter at the team will be next year, though at 25 Jakobsen is certainly the future. Could we see him at the Tour de France with the big guns next July?

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9. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) 905pts, 9 wins

AUCH FRANCE JUNE 11 Arnaud Demare of France and Team Groupama FDJ Orluis Aular Sanabria of Venezuela and Team Caja RuralSeguros RGA sprint at arrival during the 45th La Route dOccitanie La Depeche Du Midi 2021 Stage 2 a 1987km stage from VillefranchedeRouergue to Auch 174m RDO2021 RouteOccitanie on June 11 2021 in Auch France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Démare's Route d'Occitanie stage victory was one of nine races below WorldTour level in 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Change from 2020: Down 7 places

After taking second place last year following a dominant Giro d'Italia campaign (four wins and the points jersey) backed up by smaller wins elsewhere, Démare has plummeted down our ranking in 2021.

This year, the Frenchman has taken an impressive nine wins, including seven sprints, but none of them have come at Grand Tour or WorldTour level – the first time he's failed to win at any WorldTour race since the 2015 season.

A second place to Jakobsen on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España was his best top-level result of a year which included a Tour de France disappointment as he finished outside the time limit on Tignes.

Elsewhere, his 2021 palmarès resembled that of a flat-track bully, to borrow a phrase from football. La Roue Tourangelle, two stages at the Volta a la Valenciana, three stages at the Boucles de la Mayenne, a stage at La Route d'Occitanie. 

His Paris-Tours win (not a sprint) was his most impressive, and it was far from a bad season, but Démare will expect better in 2022.

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10. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) 830pts, 8 wins

Sonny Colbrelli wins Paris-Roubaix

Colbrelli's Paris-Roubaix win wasn't from a bunch sprint, but is he really a bunch sprinter now? (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Change from 2020: New entry

This season has seen Colbrelli branch out from sprinting, à la Van Aert. A debut Paris-Roubaix win last month came in addition to a European title on a tough course in Trento, overall victory at the 'Classics stage race' of the Benelux Tour, the Memorial Pantani, the Italian national title, plus a stage and the points jersey at both the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné.

It was a phenomenal campaign from the 31-year-old, who has far surpassed anything he has achieved before. As with Van Aert, though, not many of his triumphs were bunch sprints. Of his eight wins this year, only two came in that scenario – one apiece at Romandie and the Dauphiné, though even then it's charitable to describe both as traditional mass sprints given his competition at the finish.

Given his form in the run-up to the race, Colbrelli was expected to be a major sprint contender at the Tour de France, though come the race he ended up performing better in the mountains (third at Tignes, second at Saint-Gaudens) than the largely pan-flat sprint stages, the type of terrain which has never fully suited his more punchy style.

Still, that is hardly a disappointment given what else he achieved during the course of the season. After the year he's had, few are questioning Colbrelli's ability, though maybe we can question whether he's even really a sprinter at all.

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The rest

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#Rider (Team)PointsWins (.1+)
11Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious)8057
12Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka NextHash)7653
13Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe)6706
14Elia Viviani (Cofidis)5807
15Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)5753
16Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic)5000
17Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)4852
18Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates)4651
19Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange)4250
20Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates)4202
21Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates)4201
22Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)4008
23Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation)3900
24Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma)3803
25Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep)3703
26Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers)3659
27Christophe Laporte (Cofidis)3204
28Jon Aberasturi (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA)3151
29Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe)3002
30Alberto Dainese (Team DSM)2900
31Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep)2853
32André Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation)2802
33David Dekker (Jumbo-Visma)2750
34Simone Consonni (Cofidis)2750
35Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo)2655
36Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma)2352
37Martin Laas (Bora-Hansgrohe)2352
38Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck-QuickStep)2350
39Kristoffer Halvorsen (Uno-X)2301
40Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels p/b KTM)2200
41Patryk Stosz (Voster ATS)2003
42Jakub Mareczko (Vini Zabù)1851
43Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma)1850
44Matthew Walls (Bora-Hansgrohe1602
45Timothy Dupont (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB)1601
46Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-QuickStep)1552
47Cees Bol (Team DSM)1351
48Arvid de Kleijn (Rally Cycling)1152
49Niccolò Bonifazio (Team TotalEnergies)1101
50Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates)1001

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