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Sprint clashes, comebacks and transfers - The fast men to watch in 2022

Girmay, Jakobsen, Philipsen, Cavendish, Bennett sprinters to watch 2022
Clockwise from top left – Jakobsen, Cavendish, Bennett, Girmay, and Philipsen are among our sprinters to watch for 2022 (Image credit: Getty Images/Bora-Hansgrohe – Composite)

At the end of each year, Cyclingnews establishes the best sprinter of the season, using our unique points formula to objectively rank the top fast men of the past 12 months.

In 2020, Sam Bennett came out on top ahead of Arnaud Démare, Pascal Ackermann and Caleb Ewan. In 2021, the sprints, crashes, comebacks, injuries shook up the sprinter's hierarchy and painted a very different picture.

Jasper Philipsen and Mark Cavendish both won big and were consistently, elevating to the top of the Cyclingnews ranking. Yet Bennett didn't finish a race after May 9, while Démare struggled in almost every sprint, Ewan crashed out of the Tour de France and Ackermann was plotting his move to UAE Team Emirates.

The consequences of the 2021 sprints, the significant transfers among the sprinters and the passing of another year will surely impact the outcome of the 2022 sprints.

With the 2022 season already underway, and the big-name sprinters preparing for this week's Saudi Tour and Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and then six weeks of other early-season sprint opportunities, we analyse the sprinters we expect to hit the finish line first in 2022.

Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Sam Bennett Bora-Hansgrohe 2022

Sam Bennett is back at Bora-Hansgrohe this season (Image credit: Bora-hansgrohe/Lukas Gellert)

The quietly spoken but fast finishing Irishman endured an injury-hit and nerve-racking 2021 after hurting his knee before the Tour de France and falling out with QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere.

Bennett opted to stay quiet but forced Lefevere to respect his 2021 contract before moving to Bora-Hansgrohe. He left the German team in dispute just two years ago, but a significant offer tempted him to return. He will help replace Peter Sagan as Bora-Hansgrohe pivots from the Classics to the Grand Tours and he is keen to move on from his disastrous 2021 season.

Bennett benefited from Michael Mørkøv's masterful lead-outs in 2020 but the Dane stayed with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl and so Bora-Hansgrohe have worked to build a new lead-out train. Danny van Poppel has been signed from Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert in the belief he can become Bennett's trusted last man, while fellow Irishman Ryan Mullen and trusted bodyguard and friend Shane Archbold also form part of the train along with veteran Marco Haller.

Will it be enough to ensure Bennett can win again? He seems to think so.

"I've been successful before and I will be again. That's what I keep telling myself," he told Cyclingnews recently. "Okay, it [time away] wasn't a mental break, there were some hard times, but I'll come back, and I will be strong again."

Bennett had been in Bora-Hansgrohe's long list for the Saudi Tour but he instead looks set to start his season at the UAE Tour later in the month.

Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)

SANTA CRUZ DE BEZANA SPAIN AUGUST 31 Fabio Jakobsen of Netherlands and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Green Points Jersey celebrates at finish line as stage winner during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 16 a 180km stage from Laredo to Santa Cruz de Bezana lavuelta LaVuelta21 on August 31 2021 in Santa Cruz de Bezana Spain Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Jakobsen completed his incredible comeback with three wins at the Vuelta a España (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Last April at the Tour of Turkey, Jakobsen made an emotional comeback from the terrible injuries of his 2020 Tour de Pologne crash. He overcame his fears and often his rivals, ending the season with seven sprint wins, including three stages at the Vuelta a España.

It was enough for him to confirm he had effectively secured the number one sprint role at QuickStep-AlphaVinyl ahead of Mark Cavendish for 2022, including a debut at the Tour de France. The 25-year-old seems set for greater things in 2021.

Most of us would be scared to even ride a bike after suffering the injuries that Jakobsen has overcome, but he proved on his return that he has the instinct and hunger of a sprinter. He is rightly hungry to enjoy his second chance and second part of his career.

Jakobsen's first race of 2022 is the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix)

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 successful 2021 campaign included two wins at the Vuelta a España (Image credit: Miwa Iijima/Bettini Photo)

The 23-year-old Belgian topped the 2021 Cyclingnews sprinters ranking and deserved his crown due to his consistency from Scheldeprijs in the spring to the Classique Paris-Chauny in late September, with wins at the Tour of Turkey and Eschborn-Frankfurt among those coming along the way.

Philipsen is not yet one of the sprinting greats in the peloton, but he seems on track to get there, possibly as soon as 2022. He was hugely frustrated by his six top-three placings but no wins at the Tour de France but he showed his speed in the Vuelta with two wins in just 11 stages. He's aiming to get a win on the board at the Tour this time around.

In the absence of Mathieu van der Poel for the early part of the season due to his back injury, Alpecin-Fenix will be hoping Philipsen and Tim Merlier – winner of a stage at both the Giro and Tour last year – can step up and lead the way with more wins.

Philipsen will not make his season debut until the UAE Tour but he has the speed and sprinting ability to win immediately at WorldTour level.

Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco)

Dylan Groenewegen BikeExchange-Jayco 2022

Groenewegen has made the switch to BikeExchange-Jayco this year (Image credit: BikeExchange-Jayco)

The Dutchman's career seemed to be in the doldrums after his suspension for sparking the Jakobsen crash and a lack of big sprint opportunities at Jumbo-Visma, but with surprise move to BikeExchange-Jayco this winter, he appears to be back on track.

The Australian team needs to score UCI points to avoid getting dragged into the relegation battle in the WorldTour this year, and Groenewegen seems to be the perfect man for the job. He can win smaller races and inspire his teammates but he can also win the big ones in the Tour de France and elsewhere.

Groenewegen has already been assured a place in the Tour squad. He will start his first race with BikeExchange-Jayco at the Saudi Tour.

Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ)

French rider of team Groupama FDJ Arnaud Demare C celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the 115th edition of the 2123 km ParisTours one day cycling race in Tours Central France on October 10 2021 Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT AFP Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANTAFP via Getty Images

Démare showed his versatility in his final race of 2021 as he won Paris-Tours (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Frenchman dominated the 2020 Giro d'Italia sprints but failed massively in 2021 when he was given a protected role at the Tour de France. 

He won nine sprints last year, but none of them came at Grand Tour or WorldTour level for the first time since 2015. His best result at the Tour was fourth in Châteauroux behind a rampant Cavendish. He then failed to finish inside the time limit on the mountain stage to Tignes, leaving Groupama-FDJ rudderless.

That poor performance cost him a chance in this year's Tour as the team instead backs Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu for a shot at the podium. Démare has been relegated to the Giro again, in the hope he can rediscover his 2020 success.

He still has his solid lead-out train and could still perform in the Classics as he showed by winning Paris-Tours, but he is under pressure to win, starting at February's Tour of Oman.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)

PARIS FRANCE JULY 18 Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team JumboVisma celebrates at arrival 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 Michael SteeleGetty Images

Van Aert has already won on the biggest sprint stage of them all – on the Champs-Elysèes (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

As teammate Primož Roglič joked in a recent team video, Van Aert can do it all. And that includes winning sprints.

The Belgian cracked at the World Championships in Belgium but impressed in almost every other race last year, winning 11 times in 2021, and taking haul of podium places, including at Milan-San Remo, the hilly Olympic Games road race and the time trial at the Leuven Worlds. His sprint finish was often a factor and he won six races thanks to his faster finish.

Gent-Wevelgem was one, but the final stage of the Tour de France stands out the most and secures him a place in the Cyclingnews sprinter's list for 2022. He beat Philipsen and Cavendish in Paris and seems on track to repeat that feat in 2022. If Jumbo-Visma give him the opportunity, he could well win the green points jersey at the 2022 Tour de France, further confirming his broad range of talents.

After a dominant cyclo-cross campaign, Van Aert is now training for the road season and will make his season debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers)

Elia Viviani Ineos Grenadiers 2022

Elia Viviani is back at the British squad for 2022 (Image credit: Ineos Grenadiers)

The Italian, like Bennett, has witnessed the benefits of the QuickStep lead-out and suffered the problems of trying to win without it. 

After his two difficult but well-paid seasons at Cofidis, which left him frustrated and with only a handful of minor results, including no wins at WorldTour level, Viviani has returned to Ineos Grenadiers.

He knows he may have less sprint opportunities there, but appears to have made a balanced decision, knowing that the British super team can help him get back to his best.

Viviani will no doubt have to fight with young rival Ethan Hayter for a protected role and Ineos can't offer much of a lead out train with their GC focus. Yet Vivani appears motivated and back to his race weight and back to his best finishing speed.

He will make his season debut at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.

Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies)

Peter Sagan in the 2022 Team TotalEnergies jersey

Sagan training in his new TotalEnergies colours (Image credit: Sportful)

Peter Sagan has always been more than just a sprinter but he has also always been consistent in the fast finishes, using his bike skills and speed to take on the purists.

His number of wins have faded just like his Classics success in recent years, but he insists he is far from finished, recently celebrating his 32nd birthday and recovering from a second bout of COVID-19.

Two weeks off the bike will surely affect his early season, but Sagan should be in the action in spring, especially in the sprints after hilly stages that hurt the pure sprinters but always give him opportunities.

His move to TotalEnergies will be fascinating to watch. The French team has bought Sagan along with several domestiques and backroom staff as a package and they expect success, especially at the Tour de France. 2022 will reveal if the Slovakian still has speed in his legs after 12 years of success or if he is slipping towards retirement.

Sagan is expected to kick-off his 2022 and debut with TotalEnergies at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var in mid-February.

Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)

Mark Cavendish speaks during the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team presentation in Spain

Cavendish at QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's pre-season training camp (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Manxman pulled off a miraculous comeback in 2021, keeping his career alive after it seemed over and then winning four stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France.

Now 36, Cavendish is no spring chicken but he remains a sprinter and he will never accept the idea that cannot be competitive. Only fools write him off.

Patrick Lefevere has given the Tour de France spot and so first call on Michael Mørkøv's lead-out to Jakobsen, while Cavendish will likely be sent to the Giro d'Italia. But rest assured, Cavendish will be out to prove a point and be ready if an opportunity to return to the Tour emerges.

He suffered some nasty injuries when he crashed hard at the Gent Six Day but he has been working hard at the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl training camps and will always be inspired when he senses a chance of victory in a sprint finish.

Cavendish is due to start his 2022 season at the UAE Tour but could also ride the Tour of Oman before that.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)

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

Caleb Ewan winning the first of his two stages at last year's Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

It's easy to forget about the pocket rocket Australian after his crash-hit 2021 season but that would be like leaving the door open along the barriers in a sprint.

Ewan is fast and fearless and will dive into most gaps if there is a chance of victory. He will likely take on every 2022 sprint opportunity with that mentality, knowing he needs to re-establish his role as one of the fastest pure sprinters in the peloton.

He is under pressure to help Lotto Soudal score points for their fight to stay in the WorldTour for 2023 and beyond, so success at Milan-San Remo and other sprinters' Classics and one-day races will be highly valuable.

After spending the winter in Europe, Ewan will make his 2022 debut at the Saudi Tour.

Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)

Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) won the Trofeo Port d’Alcúdia

Biniam Girmay celebrates victory at the Trofeo Port d’Alcúdia (Image credit: Getty Images)

Girmay's sprint win on day two of the Challenge Mallorca was perhaps a surprise, but it was clear the Eritrean would break through in the sprints sooner or later and be a sprinter to watch.

His second place in the under-23 road race at the World Championships confirmed the speed he had shown during 2021, both at Delko and then especially after his mid-season transfer to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert.

Girmay is fast but can also climb, reminding some of Oscar Freire or Peter Sagan. He won in Mallorca by coming from behind with a powerful but high-cadence sprint. While Nizzolo and others faded, he just kept going and won. That could become the story of so many 2022 sprint finishes, especially after a rolling parcours.

After the Challenge Mallorca, we expect Girmay's race programme to include a lot more sprint opportunities, with the Vuelta a Murcia and the Vuelta a Andalucía next up on his schedule.

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