Giro d’Italia: Analysing the sprinters – more exciting than the GC?

Merlier, Groves, Milan, and Kooij headline strong sprint field in Italy

Clock11:45, Friday 3rd May 2024
The sprint field at this year's Giro d'Italia is deep

© Getty Images

The sprint field at this year's Giro d'Italia is deep

When the 2024 Giro d’Italia gets underway this Saturday in Turin, much attention will be on the fight for the pink jersey, and the GC narrative that will unfurl over the next three weeks. However, a Grand Tour is about more than just the general classification, with 21 stage wins and three other jerseys up for grabs during the next few weeks in Italy.

In the run-up to the Giro, one of the most exciting battles brewing is the one between the sprinters. Whilst the list of GC contenders is relatively diluted for a Grand Tour, the Giro has attracted a sparkling field of sprinters, with many of the fastest riders in the world set to line up in Turin – the argued best sprinter Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is not there, but most of the A-list bunch finishers are.

Read more: Giro d’Italia 2024: Essential race preview

Four months into the season, we’ve seen plenty from all of these sprinters, and a hierarchy of ability and form is starting to emerge. With various riders spread across various goals and races during the spring, the Giro offers the first chance for a big group of sprinters to all go head-to-head-to-head, on the biggest stage.

There are six designated sprint stages on this year’s Giro route, and a handful more that could well end in bunch sprints, depending on how they’re raced, so the stage is set for plenty of big clashes between some really strong riders. But who will come out on top?

Read more: Giro d’Italia: Ranking the top 10 contenders

The big guns

  • Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) – 7 wins in 2024, 2 Grand Tour career stages
  • Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) – 4 wins in 2024, 0 Grand Tour career stages
  • Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) – 3 wins in 2024, 1 Grand Tour career stage
  • Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) – 0 wins in 2024, 5 Grand Tour career stages

These four riders are the headline sprinters in the race, the ones who have had most success in the last 12 months and should be expected to be contending for the win in most bunch finishes. Any one of them will probably be disappointed to come away without a win, and with good reason.

Tim Merlier is the name that stands out from this group, as he’s been the most successful sprinter so far this year, and has at times looked fairly unmatchable – he dominated the UAE Tour, was strong during the Classics, and beat a strong field at the sprinter-packed Scheldeprijs. Of course, Grand Tours are different, but confidence and momentum are key for sprinters, and Merlier should have that in buckets. Soudal Quick-Step aren’t mounting a serious GC assault at the Giro, so they’ll look to Merlier and stage wins as a big goal. He has strength in his lead-out in the form of Pieter Serry, Luke Lamperti and Bert Van Lerberghe.

However, he’s facing some tough competition, and this race is unlikely to be a win-sweeping exercise for the Belgian. One of the most exciting prospects in the sprint field is Olav Kooij, who is making his Grand Tour debut, but should already be considered amongst the top sprinters. He won a stage of the UAE Tour and two at Paris-Nice – from a strong field – and is one of the fastest finishers when he’s dropped off in the right place. With no Wout Van Aert, more pressure will be on Kooij’s shoulders for Visma-Lease a Bike, but he’s primed to live up to it.

Read more: Giro d’Italia: Visma-Lease a Bike target stage wins with Olav Kooij, Cian Uijtdebroeks for GC

The other main challenger is Jonathan Milan, the defending maglia ciclamino winner. It was consistently that earned him that title in 2023, rather than a glut of wins, so the Italian will be hoping to improve on the one stage he won last year.

Lastly in this tier of sprinters is Kaden Groves, perhaps contentiously since he’s yet to win in 2024, but he has one of the strongest Grand Tour pedigrees on the start list, and routinely won in the Vuelta last year. It’s been a slow start to the Australian, but he’s the kind of rider who can deliver in the moments that matter, and with – finally – no Van der Poel or Philipsen to detract from his focus,

The hopefuls

  • Fabio Jakobsen (dsm-firmenich PostNL) – 1 win in 2024, 6 Grand Tour stages
  • Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla) – 2 wins in 2024, 11 Grand Tour stages
  • Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) – 0 wins in 2024, 2 Grand Tour stages
  • Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) – 1 win in 2024, 0 Grand Tour stages
  • Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) – 1 win in 2024, 1 Grand Tour stage

This group of riders don’t necessarily have the top form or speed needed to be favourites in the sprints, but will be hoping to be up there, and maybe even grab a victory on a good day. A few years ago, the likes of Jakobsen and Ewan would have been in the top tier of sprinters, but both have struggled in recent seasons, and perhaps don’t quite have the final kick they used to. Neither Jakobsen or Ewan have many wins to their name so far this year, and victory in the Giro would change their season trajectories and a real return to top-level success. They have strong riders around them, and haven’t been totally off the pace this season, so it’s definitely possible for one or both to take a win.

Sebastián Molano and Phil Bauhaus are perhaps another step below, but are riders who are consistently up there in bunch sprints. Molano won’t have much pressure on his shoulders, since UAE are going all-in for Tadej Pogačar, which also limits his support, but means he’ll have a free role to have a go in bunch finishes, and he is fast. Bauhaus has never won a Grand Tour stage, but won in Tirreno this year, which will have boosted his confidence, and he’ll be primed to take advantage of any chaotic situations in the sprints.

Read more: Pro bike: Can Phil Bauhaus claim a maiden Giro d’Italia stage win atop the Merida Reacto?

Biniam Girmay is almost in a category of his own, because he’s developed into much more than a bunch sprinter, but can – and should – still be up there in the flat finishes. The question is, though, whether he can beat the really pure fast finishers. The Eritrean will benefit on the slightly tougher finales, and should be a shoo-in for a string of top placings, but he will have to work hard for a win in a conventional sprint finish.

The opportunists

That’s already nine riders highlighted for the sprints, but outside of the big names there will be a whole host of riders trying to sneak into the top placings, and maybe take opportunities on tricky or messy finishes. Of course, half the peloton could go into this list – everyone wants to win a Grand Tour stage – but there are a few, in particular, to keep an eye on, riders who aren’t certified favourites but will be very motivated to give it a go.

With Sam Welsford not selected, Danny van Poppel has been dropped into the role of sprint leader at Bora-Hansgrohe, and whilst he’s ostensibly a lead-out man, he is very capable of winning himself too, especially with Ryan Mullen in front of him. He did ‘win’ a stage of the Tour of Türkiye, but was relegated for deviation – though it shows the speed is there. Max Kanter is in a similar situation, usually a lead-out for Mark Cavendish but stepping into the lead himself here. A win seems a big ask for the rider who only took his first pro win in April, but he’ll be hunting out chances.

Like Jakobsen and Ewan above, Gaviria is a rider who would have been the top of a sprinters ranking a few years ago – he took home the maglia ciclamino at the Giro in 2017 – but these days his pace just isn’t there. That said, what he may lack in recent results and pure speed, the Colombian makes up for in experience, which could prove fruitful. He’s a rider who isn’t afraid to try something different, and it isn’t impossible to imagine him taking a top result.

Lastly is a rider who isn’t even always looked at as a sprinter, but has shown his mettle in fast finishes this year. Jhonatan Narváez is likely to be Ineos’ hope in the sprints, with sometimes opportunist Filippo Ganna probably more focused on the time trials in his home race. Narváez doesn’t have much experience as a sprinter in Grand Tours, so this will be a big test for the Ecuadorian, but he’s been on exciting form so far this season, and there’s no reason why that couldn’t continue at the Giro.

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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