By Gregor Brown
With the snow-capped Alps peaked on the horizon for the first time in this Giro d'Italia and no respite over the next seven days, some sprinters have packed their bags to head home.
So far, sprinters André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Jakub Mareczko (Wilier-Selle Italia) pulled the plug on the Giro d'Italia. Some of the few other sprinters that lined up in this mountainous 100th edition may follow soon since zero opportunities remain.
"Well, maybe I'm a bit of an old-style sports director, but if I start nine riders then I also want to finish with nine riders," Jens Zemke, sports director at Bora-Hansgrohe, told Cycling Weekly.
"You work a long time to select a team in to prepare for a race and you want to finish the three weeks, but it would be more logical if they gave a chance to the sprinters to win."
Zemke included Irishman Sam Bennett in his team for the Giro d'Italia, picking up one second place, and three third places.
"Of course, I understand that depends also on the programme after the race," added Zemke. "If a rider is racing the Tour de France then that could change things."
"It depends on the parcours of the Giro," said Lotto-Soudal sports director Willems Frederik.
This year, the Giro is exceptionally tough. It's a really beautiful Giro, but from here on it is designed just to the climbers and time trial specialists on the final day. It's possible for sprinters to survive in the Giro, but I would say to those here that it is not worth it."
Watch: Giro d'Italia stage 14 highlights
"It's right that the riders respect the Giro but the sprinters have zero opportunities in the last week. It's very hard," Wilier Triestina sports director Luca Scinto said.
"You have to look at the circumstances. The Tour de France is a different race and everyone wants to race to Paris because to win on the Champs-Élysées is huge for a sprinter and it has so much prestige."
Mark Cavendish, then with Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, raced to the end of the 2013 Giro, where he won the final stage and the points classification.
This year, the race ends with a time trial and it seems only Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), winner of four stages, wants to stay around to Milan to keep his points jersey.
"The organisers will have to put something in the end to entice the sprinters to stay," said Team Sky boss David Brailsford. "If there's something to win then they will hang around to try, but if nothing is to be gained then they will go.
"This is the first Grand Tour of the season too, and they have a lot of the season left. If the Tour came first then it would be the same situation."
"I understand their decision to leave," Quick-Step Floors general manager Patrick Lefevere added. "Some go home because it's planned, but it's not so beautiful to make an announcement in advance.
"I'm very grateful because Fernando's doing well and is one of the best of the sprinters in the mountains. For Fernando Gaviria, another thing is that he tries because it's his first big tour and he can become a better rider by finishing."
Lefevere also said that Gaviria's situation differs because he will not race the Tour de France, where Marcel Kittel will lead the team.
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