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Making the grade: How the sprinters stack up

Looking for breakout: Farrar, Petacchi and Kittel

Behind those leading four challengers, there are another half-dozen contenders trying to knock Cavendish off his sprint throne.

Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) crashed out of the Giro in stage 6 with a heavy cut to his hand and went home without more opportunities during Garmin’s otherwise wildly successful Giro.

Farrar, 28, is winless on the 2012 season, despite nine top-fives throughout the year, including second at GP Scheldeprijs. The American bet heavily on the spring classics, just missed the big win in Antwerp, and was hoping to kick to victory during the Giro.

Robbie Hunter, who has been Farrar’s pilot during much of the first half of the season, says it’s only a matter of time before Farrar gets a win.

“He’s been right there all season. Sometimes it’s just a question of a little bit of luck, and everything can change overnight,” Hunter told VeloNews. “We’ve been doing the work. Farrar’s already one that (has beaten Cav at the Tour). He knows he can do it. It’s a matter of just keep getting into the sprints.”

Another rider looking for salvation during the Tour will be aging ace Alessandro Petacchi. Lampre-ISD left him at home in May, in part to bring a strong GC team to the Giro, but also because Petacchi fell ill during the spring and only returned to racing at the Tour of Turkey a week before the Italian grand tour.

At 38, Petacchi admits he’s no longer the force he was when he was winning 20 sprints a year and challenging for the points jerseys in the grand tours. Petacchi finally punched into the winner’s column last month, with three stages at the Bayern Rundfahrt, and vows to be a factor during the Tour.

“I know I cannot win 20 races like I did before. There are less and less chances for the sprinters. There are more teams fighting for the sprints,” Petacchi told VeloNews. “I know I can still make a good sprint. When I have a train, I can be at the front and make my sprint. It’s always difficult to win. But when I have my train, I can make my sprint to try to win. “

Along with Sagan, this year’s Tour will also see Marcel Kittel making a highly anticipated debut in the French tour.

The 24-year-old Kittel has won five races this year, including his photo-finish duel against Farrar at Scheldeprijs, but was schooled by Sagan at the Tour of California. Kittel will be sharing sprint duties with John Degenkolb, another former Cavendish teammate who has also won five races this year.

“My dream is to win on the Champs-Élysées,” Kittel told VeloNews. “I do not expect that to happen this year. I know the Tour is very hard. I want to go to the race and learn about the Tour. Of course, I will try in the sprints, but the most important thing is to get to know the Tour. I know in the future the wins will come.”

Others will be nipping at the edges. Oscar Freire (Katusha), JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank), José Rojas (Movistar) and a few French riders will be throwing elbows to the line.

Grades are in. Some riders, like Renshaw and Petacchi have work to do. Others, like Greipel and Sagan, have proven capable of acing the big-time sprints. No matter who lines up at the Tour, everyone knows there is only one man to beat, and that’s Cavendish.

Editor’s Note: In this story, we listed Mark Renshaw’s first name as Matt. This is, of course, an error that we regret.

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