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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Tour 2000: The sprinters
Sprint finish
Bunch sprints will be a feature of the first week
This year's Tour bunch sprints are a show missing their main star, but are no less intriguing because of this.

"Super" Mario Cipollini, the Lion King, ruined his Tour chances, as well as risking his good looks, with a bad training accident a month before the race.

The result? A couple of broken ribs, 30 stitches in his face and a ruined season for the man who swept to victory in four consecutive stages last year.

So who will take his crown in the mayhem of the 40mph sprints at the end of the the flat stages.

Nerves of steel and thighs of something stronger are required for anyone to come out on top in one of these dramatic battles.

These are the men capable of getting to the line first, and of challenging for the green jersey prize handed to the winner on points at the end of the race.

Tom Steels (Bel) Mapei
Ranked 57th in world

The hotheaded rider who was thrown off the 1997 Tour for throwing a water bottle at a competitor at 35mph has matured into one of the world's best sprinters.

Tom Steels
Steels salutes victory
Last year's Tour did see him disqualified from one stage but that is an occupational hazard of the sprinting game.

Last year he was a lone predator, without the benefit of specific lead-out men to set up his final charge to the line.

This year Mapei are bringing a couple of their strong men to the party, and it can only be to the benefit of Steels, who may even challenge for the green jersey if he can make it over the mountains.

Erik Zabel (Ger) Telekom
Ranked 2nd

Erik Zabel
Zabel wants a World Cup/green jersey double
Any other sprinter who had gone three Tours without a stage win would be a laughing stock worrying about his starting place.

But Zabel's consistency with second, third and fourth places means that he has made the green jersey his own.

This year sees him aim for a record fifth win in the points classification a year after equalling the tally of great Irish rider Sean Kelly.

He will also hope to benefit from Telekom signing Gian Matteo Fagnini, Mario Cipollini's main ally in the sprints at Saeco in recent years.

The German is also the current leader of the World Cup series of top one-day races and a superb early season has given him his best ever world ranking.

Jann Kirsipuu (Est) AG2R Prevoyance
Ranked 20th

The Estonian was the only man apart from Lance Armstrong to wear the yellow jersey last year, following his stage win in the first road stage at Challans.

That victory took one of the stars of French domestic racing into the highest level internationally - and the consistent Kirsipuu enjoyed his week in the spotlight.

That made him hungry for more - and he is in with a good chance of repeating his success this year.

Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Credit Agricole
Ranked 76th

The Australian is not a typical eyeballs-out sprinter but has emerged in the last two Tours as the most credible challenger to Zabel for the green jersey.

O'Grady has endured a difficult year since finishing runner-up in the points classification last year.

Last autumn he - along with British rider David Millar - was mugged in Toulouse, the French city where both are based.

O'Grady lost his watch but more seriously suffered a blood clot due to being hit on the head with a windscreen wiper blade.

It is typical of the Aussie's combative attitude that he has returned to form, and is confident of giving Zabel another close run.

Robbie McEwan (Aus) Farm Frites
Ranked 75th

If O'Grady has had a turbulent year, then McEwan's experiences have been bizarre to say the least.

Robbie McEwan
Will McEwan get on the podium?
After success on the blue riband Champs-Elysees sprint in Paris last year, McEwan changed Dutch teams but has suffered a major loss of form.

In May's Tour of Italy he was disqualified after desperately hanging onto a team car to get over one of the climbs, but the strangest incident came in his own country in January.

At the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, McEwan was arrested and then cleared after a complaint of indecent conduct and sexual harassment by a hotel chamber maid.

It hardly set up the Australian's season, and his Tour participation remained in doubt until late June.

Jimmy Casper (Fra) La Francaise des Jeux
Ranked 577th

Despite his English-sounding name the curly-haired sprinter is the new star of French cycling.

He entertained during the opening week of last year's Tour, challenging the established names with some audacious sprinting but failing due to inexperience.

This year there have been suggestions that he has refused to train hard enough to maintain his progress, but if he finds some form he is a fearless sprinter.

Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned) Polti
Ranked 72nd

The Dutchman is struggling to cast aside the suggestion that his best days are behind him, despite a transfer to the Italian Polti squad this year.

The Tour of Italy saw him fail to provide the stage win he had been employed to achieve.

And he needs to come good on the Tour stage if the vaccuum cleaner company's investment is not to be a waste this year.

George Hincapie (US) US Postal
Ranked 68th

George Hincapie
Hincapie will be going solo
The big American arrives at the Tour in a team which is ill-suited to helping him gain the stage win he craves.

The US Postal squad's first priority is getting Lance Armstrong into the yellow jersey. Second priority is keeping him in the lead.

That means Hincapie must go it alone in the bunch finishes - a task which is difficult against the squads of lead-out men.

However recent Tours have shown the American to be a consistent finisher, and he is an outside bet for the green jersey.

Marcel Wust (Ger) Festina
Ranked 62nd

Winner on numerous days in the three-week Tour of Spain, including the fastest stage race win of all time, a near-32mph gallop in 1998.

Wust now wants glory at the highest level of world sprinting and has a good chance of gaining it.

Like Cipollini, when he finds form in a race he becomes virtually unstoppable and he could really fly if this happens in the first week of the race.

Salvatore Commesso (Ita) Saeco
Ranked 111th

In Cipollini's absence the 1999 Italian champion may well be Saeco's main man in the sprints.

Salvatore Commesso
Commesso has big shoes to fill
Last year he showed good Tour form with some gutsy performances, but he may be more suited to wins in the hillier intermediate stages than in the bunch finishes.

If that is the case then the Saeco squad - built around Cipollini's strengths - may be like a football team capable of creating chances but unable to finish them.

See also:

28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
Links to more Tour de France stories are at the foot of the page.


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