Why the battle of the German sprinters will be one of the most fascinating storylines of 2016

Only one rider will get to lead Germany at the World Championships in Qatar, but will it be Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel or John Degenkolb?

Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb (Watson)

Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel locked horns for the first time in 2016 at the Volta ao Algarve to start what is likely to be a season-long battle for dominance.

For the majority of the sprinters in the peloton, the season will be building up to one thing - the flat, fast course at the World Championships in Qatar this October.

While many countries will already have their chosen their designated sprinter - Mark Cavendish is very likely to lead Great Britain - a country like Germany has a wealth of talent at its disposal, so one or more riders will be left disappointed.

Kittel and Greipel are the two obvious options for the Qatar race, but Giant-Alpecin's John Degenkolb could also be in the frame, especially as his spring Classics hopes have been dashed.

While Degenkolb recovers from the injuries suffered in a collision with a car at a training camp, Kittel and Greipel have a head start and will likely butt heads many times this spring.

With one more sprint stage to contest in the Algarve, Kittel leads the season series by one win to nil, with the pair scheduled to face off at Paris-Nice at the start of March as well.

Greipel took first blood in the wins count this season, though, claiming two wins at Challenge Mallorca in late January, with Kittel matching and bettering that at the Dubai Tour, winning two stages and the overall title.

Greipel's early season is quite different to Kittel's, with hulking German a key part of Lotto-Soudal's cobbled Classics team, playing a support role to the likes of Jurgen Roelandts and Tiesj Benoot.

Kittel, meanwhile, only really races to win, rather than playing the domestique role, which could cause a few tensions if Greipel is chosen to lead Germany at the Worlds.

Either sprinter would be a great leadout man for the other, and adding Degenkolb to the mix would leave Germany with an enviable team.

With both Kittel and Greipel likely to ride the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France this season, it could come down to which rider wins the most races.

If I were to make a prediction this early in the season, I'd say Kittel has the edge over Greipel thanks to the dominance of his wins so far. He's rediscovered his top end speed and has looked unbeatable when he's in position to contest the sprint.

But if Greipel can repeat his four stage wins at the Tour de France in July he could get the nod. With the Worlds coming very late in the calendar this year, there's a long time between the end of the Tour and the championships, which leaves the whole debate up in the air once more.

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Stuart Clarke is a News Associates trained journalist who has worked for the likes of the British Olympic Associate, British Rowing and the England and Wales Cricket Board, and of course Cycling Weekly. His work at Cycling Weekly has focused upon professional racing, following the World Tour races and its characters.