There's still a long way to go in the Tour de France 2022, but there could be quite a wait until we see the next full-on bunch finish if the sprint teams can't get it together on stage four. Until week two in fact.
Stages two and three in Denmark gave us two sprint showdowns, with two Dutch winners; Fabio Jakobsen and Dylan Groenewegen. Both looked back to their best, while others languished in chaotic finishes or simply didn't have the strength to match them.
Here we'll analyse the form of the sprinters of the Tour so far, and who looks best set to take the victory the next time the peloton reaches a sprint finish.
It’s been a tale of two final corners for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl in the sprints so far — the first on stage two, when Yves Lampaert and Michael Mørkøv led the peloton to help deliver Fabio Jakobsen to victory; and the second the following day, when the team once again made it to the decisive bend at the front with Florian Sénéchal and Mørkøv, only for Jakobsen to lose their wheel and fall out of contention.
Fabio Jakobsen celebrates victory on stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (Getty Images)
Despite looking so strong to get into these front positions, the famed Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl lead-out hasn’t been firing on all cylinders come the final metres of the sprints by their own very high standards. Usually so aware and attentive, Mørkøv confessed to not realising that Jakobsen wasn’t on his wheel when he proceeded to lead out the sprint on stage three, and even when Jakobsen won the day before he had to come from a few wheels behind to do so.
The way the Dutchman stormed past the riders ahead of him to take his first ever Tour stage win that day regardless suggests he’s in flying form, and you sense that if Quick-Step can perfect the lead-out, then he’ll be very difficult to beat in the future sprints.
When Dylan Groenewegen abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné last month, having been unceremoniously dropped on all three of the stages he might have hoped to sprint for victory on, the prospects of taking a stage at the Tour de France looked remote. But having struggled so much there, Groenewegen suddenly looked like his old self on stage three, where he produced a lethal acceleration to take his first WorldTour victory since his ban in 2020.
Dylan Groenewegen sprints to victory on stage three of the 2022 Tour de France (James Startt)
The flat parcours in Denmark certainly helped his chances, and he’ll have a harder time during the hillier potential sprint stages to come. But BikeExchange-Jayco’s decision to prioritise leading him out for the sprints rather than target the green jersey with Michael Matthews has been justified, and Groenewegen can at last be counted among the world’s elite pure sprinters once again.
Wout van Aert
Though the rather fanciful notion that all-rounder extraordinaire Wout van Aert could in theory win every stage of the Tour de France has become impossible this year, he is currently on track to finish second-place in every stage.
Wout van Aert in yellow after stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (James Startt)
This string of runner-up finishes might be frustrating the Belgian, who dearly wants a stage win to his name, but it does mean he’s well on his way to achieving his target of winning the green jersey. His ability to always be in the mix and position himself every sprint despite the unpredictable rough and tumble of a bunch finish is reminiscent of Peter Sagan during his run of seven victories in that classification, and his grip on the jersey — as well as his chances of a stage win —should be strengthened by the parcours of the more selective sprint stages to come.
Due to the emergence of new stars and his own underwhelming form, Peter Sagan entered this Tour de France with perhaps the least amount of fanfare of any of his nine appearances. But it hasn’t taken him long to be back among the headlines, particularly when he directed an accusatory finger wag towards Wout van Aert after the stage three sprint, followed by his Jose Mourinho-esque ‘I cannot comment” post-race interview.
Peter Sagan at the start of stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (James Startt)
His form has looked good too, sprinting for sixth in Nyborg and fourth in Sønderborg in the manner in which he used to hoover up points in the points classification. The real test for him will come in the hillier terrain, considering that he was routinely dropped at the recent Tour de Suisse on the kind of climbs he used to relish. If he can, then he’ll be a contender to regain his points classification crown, and a mouth-watering contest between him as the old master against new pretender Van Aert could be on the cards.
Having been selected ahead of Tim Merlier, who won stages in both of his Grand Tour appearances last year, Jasper Philipsen is under pressure to perform for Alpecin-Deceuninck. So far he hasn’t made much of an impression, finishing fifth in Nyborg and third in Sønderborg, but the amount of ground he made up sprinting from far back in the latter suggests the 24-year-old has strong legs.
He hasn’t been contesting the intermediate sprints, indicating that stage wins are his sole ambition this Tour. If he can position himself better in the future sprints — perhaps with the assistance of the one and only Mathieu van der Poel, whose match was burnt a little early on stage three in a drag race against Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's lead-out a few kilometres from the finish — that feat is certainly attainable.
More than anything, Mads Pedersen would have dearly loved to have either taken a stage or wore the yellow jersey while still on his home Danish roads. He seriously threatened to do so on stage two when he opened up the sprint and remained at the front until the very last metres, when Van Aert and then Jakobsen edged him out of victory.
Mads Pedersen finishes third on stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (Getty Images)
But while his primary ambition for this year’s race has been left unfulfilled, his ride that day proves he can mix it up with the very best sprinters in a pure bunch sprint. He’ll still be on the hunt for stage wins, and opportunities await not just in the classics specialist-friendly stages, but also the flat sprinter stages.
Ewan must have felt he was due a break after his string of misfortune recently, but whichever Gods he has displeased are clearly not yet appeased. On stage two he suffered yet another ill-timed mechanical during the sprint, and was then denied a smooth run to the line the following day when he was boxed into the barrier by Peter Sagan.
Caleb Ewan at the 2022 Tour de France (Getty Images)
Still, this constitutes a better start than either of his last two Grand Tours, in which by this point he had already suffered a bad crash. In truth we still don’t know what kind of form he’s in, but the fact he’s been chasing green jersey points at the intermediate sprints suggests he believes himself to be in good nick, and intends to make it all the way to Paris.