By Gregor Brown
The Grand Tour trend to include more mountains and fewer sprints – like the 2017 Vuelta a España with its nine summit finishes is forcing sprinters to change their style and into extinction like the dinosaurs.
In the Vuelta a España's 21 stages, only four or perhaps five, suit sprinters. The rest, besides the two time trials, suit climbers or mixed mountain stages for escapes.
"It sucks," Tom Van Asbroeck (Cannondale-Drapac) told Cycling Weekly. The Belgian placed third in the stage four sprint behind winner Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors).
"We have become the dinosaurs of the peloton and we're dying because we have nothing to feed on because of this trend in stage races. Us sprinters have to try to improve on the small climbs so that we can have a chance."
Other sprinters like Trentin, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), who abandoned overnight, and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) can climb well compared to their rivals like Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors). They have more chances in races with more climbing days.
"All the Grand Tours have always less and less stages for the sprinters, there's always more and more climbing," Trentin said.
"When you have the few possibilities, you just have to focus on those days. That's how it is in the Vuelta, you know if you go into it and so you target those goals."
BMC Racing sports director Yvon Ledanois joked that it would be better for the sprinters to just enjoy their time at the beach than to race the Vuelta, or to at least race a different programme that includes the Tour of Britain.
"Every year, it's the same," Ledanois said. "Maybe the Giro is different but the Tour and the Vuelta, I don't know if it's due to the organiser who is the same, but it seems that they're going more and more for the show and that's the priority.
"I am fine with this, but everyday is like this! Cycling is changing a lot in this direction because every organiser wants to have a show but I think you need to have balance in the Vuelta with six to seven flat stages.
"And besides, the flat stages can be tactical with crosswinds. Now everything should decided uphill, you just need the legs and you can ride at the front."
This year, the Tour organiser gifted the sprinters with nine chances for sprint finishes.
In the Vuelta, team Trek-Segafredo is working for the overall and in the sprints, for Edward Theuns with John Degenkolb abandoned.
"It's clear there are not enough sprint stages because you don't see the top sprinters here, and that should be sign for organisation," Trek-Segafredo sports director Dirk Demol explained.
"If you want to have decent sprinters then you need to have six to eight sprint chances.
"And the sprint stages can be good because we've seen some really nice ones in the Tour de France. This is a three-week stage race and we should have a bit of everything. The sprinters deserve to have more chances in this race otherwise if it continues like this they will stay away completely."
Stage two should have been a sprint, but with high stress and Quick-Step's muscle, the race was split and Yves Lampaert won. After stage four, only stage 13 to Tomares and the last one to Madrid could end in a sprint.
"It's not that we're just discovering this now because the route was an out sometime ago," Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates) added.
"We are for sure going to have to suffer to get to Madrid and we'll have one other one before we get there.
"It varies from year to year and cycling is changing because the races are always harder. When I was younger you'd see maybe half of the stages for sprinters and half for climbers.
"That's the way it is at the Tour and you see that the best sprinters in the world were there. It's a shame that it's like this."
"The great sprinters like Mark Cavendish have a lot more chances in the Tour so that they can build their seasons around that and they won't be bothered about coming here," said Adam Blythe, who is leading the Aqua Blue sprint.
"Other teams can race a different schedule, but since our team had the wildcard invitation to the Vuelta, I am not going to skip this race. But this is definitely a Vuelta for the climbers."
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