The Tour de France has always had its share of colourful characters, but none more so that the sprinters who vie for the green points jersey. The sprinters of the peloton bring excitement to the flatter stages, not only with their raw power and speed, but with the steely nerves of fighter pilots, navigating their way through tight spaces at breakneck speeds all with one goal: winning a Tour de France stage.
Looking back over the past 20 years, the Tour's bunch sprints have been the domain of a small number of riders: Mark Cavendish has won 23 in the past five editions, Robbie McEwen is next with 15, Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel both won 12, Thor Hushovd has amassed 10, Tom Steels, Djamolidine Abdujaparov each have nine, while Tom Boonen claimed six, Oscar Freire and Andre Greipel joined Jeroen Blijlevens and Jan Kirsipuu with four apiece, while last year's green jersey winner Peter Sagan is just getting started with three.
Fans are fortunate enough to have a Tour de France sprint legend in the current peloton: Cavendish holds the record for most Tour de France sprint stage wins. He surpassed the record of 22 stage wins by Andre Darrigade - one that stood for almost half a century - with his final victory on the Champs Elysees last year.
Cavendish began amassing his stage win tally in 2008, averaging five wins per Tour de France until 2012, when he was racing in the service of overall winner Bradley Wiggins and could manage "just" three.
Yet the victories are not the most memorable moments of the Tour's sprint stages - the clashes, both physically and of personality, have led to numerous incidents, from Tom Steels' bottle-throw in 1997 to the Mark Renshaw head-butt incident of 2010. Tempers may flare, but sprinters understand it's all part of the game.
Sprinters also have a good sense of humor, and aren't afraid to show it: from Mario Cipollini's audacious kits to McEwen and Sagan's enthusiastic and creative victory salutes, sprinters can provide both a thrill and a laugh.
Enjoy this gallery and reminisce on the many colourful moments of the past 20 years in Tour de France bunch sprinting.
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