Worlds greatest sprinter: Kittel or Cavendish?

by giobox   July 9, 2014  

Curious what the consensus is these days? I'm not so sure Cavendish can live up to the "The World's Fastest Man" slogan now. Kittel is just so strong. I can't remember the exact stage, but last year there was an incredible slow motion shot where Cavendish was visibly surprised as Kittel overtook him for a stage win in a bunch sprint. A few years ago Cavendish being outsprinted was almost unthinkable.

If Cavendish can't consistently outsprint the competition anymore, is he still a valuable rider for OPQS? An important point, as from a manpower perspective Cavendish is hugely expensive; a massive chunk of the 9 man squad is used to provide his sprint train. His entire value to a team and the exposure he brings their sponsor is so heavily based on his sprinting too.

The battle between the two was for me one of the most exciting aspects of this years tour, its a huge shame we didn't get to see it play out.

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Good question. Cav hasn't had it all his own way since his HTC days. Sky gave him no train, last year he was carrying illness into the Tour and this year was all aimed at the Tour, which he fucked up royally. In 2012 Kittel was ill. I don't think they're that far apart at all when things go as they should but Giant-Shimano have their lead out running so smooth it's ridiculous. They've utterly mastered it. OPQS seem to be a bit more ragged. I don't think I've seen them go properly wheel to wheel since Scheldeprijs 2013 though when both have been fully fit and firing. At present? Kittel has it though IMO.

As for Cav's value. Only Kittel has the beating of him. Greipel, Viviani, Modolo, Kristoff, Demare, Mezgec, Bouhanni are all another step back and Farrar isn't even worth mentioning any more. I think Greipel could soon be in the Farrar bracket too. He still has Grand Tour Points jerseys and stage wins in him therefore his value is still very much there.

posted by ajmarshal1 [402 posts]
9th July 2014 - 23:08


Hard to say for definite as ajmarshall says they don't go head-to-head that often, but I would say the faster sprinter is Kittel, the better all round rider is Cavendish.

Kittel's wins on stage 4 and in Belfast at the Giro show just have fast he is making up a lot of ground on sprinters that would beat almost anybody else.

Kittel has a lot of catching up to do to match Cavendish though. Coming into this Tour Kittel had 4 stage wins, but at the same age Cavendish had about 15. Cavendish has won the points jersey at all 3 Grand Tours, World Champs, races over cobbles & Milan-San Remo, something I can't see Kittel ever doing. I also think Cav is one of the best Team Time Trial riders.

Giant-Shimano are so good at the moment that often Kittel has little to do. I would like to see him tested more. When Cavendish didn't have much of a lead-out at Sky I was all impressed by his tactical knowledge, bike handling skills and improvisation. Maybe Kittel has got all that, but we don't see it due to the strength of his team.

posted by NeilG83 [288 posts]
10th July 2014 - 1:20


They're both different styles of sprinter, cav is smaller more aero doesn't develop as much power can usually read a situation well and has a second kick. Kittel is just a sheer power sprinter putting down how ever many watts.
Kittels train seems far better drilled than OPQS at the moment as well.
Put them both with the same quality of train and both 100% and I think it's hard to pick between them.

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posted by glynr36 [639 posts]
10th July 2014 - 8:40


Kittel is sheer strength rather than sheer power - the wattage will be roughly the same between the two, just one will be at a higher cadence with less force.

posted by Nick T [906 posts]
10th July 2014 - 9:14


Kittel is a beast in terms of his strength and I'd wager that in he'd take Cavendish in a straight out drag race out of the road, moderately comfortably.

I'd also say they could get a decent bit of money from people wanting to see them go head to head on the track, as part of an event like Revolution (If the Face Partnership are reading, you can have that one on me).

However, as pointed out, he has such a well drilled team that do a lot of work for him and I don't think he has Cavendish's "brain" as such. I've never seen him pick his way through a bunch and jump from wheel to wheel (or if I have, I don't recall it) on his own steam.

It's interesting to think that Cav's relative lack of success in the sprints seems to coincide with OPQS/Patrick Lefevere's refusal to ride track the past couple of years. My addled brain may have muddled the timeline slightly, but it is worth pondering if maybe his lack of track sprinting has lead to a slight loss of sharpness or edge to Cavendish's sprinting.

posted by farrell [1943 posts]
10th July 2014 - 9:25


Interesting question.

But first, whatever the answer, he is still absolutely worth the investment QPRS but into him... worst case scenario, he is now the second best sprinter in the world.

My thoughts on this are that there is actually very little between them and it would be hard to call.

Right now Kittel is winning more and has the upper hand, but regarding ability, they are close, and lets be honest, Cavendish still has a far superior palmares.

Looking at Cav's sprinting this year, I am not sure if he is being hampered by one or more of the following;

1. His lead out train is not quite functioning as it should as he is getting boxed in far too much
2. He is not as hungry as he was for every win going. He seems to back out of a fair few sprints these days. Now that could be a consequence of point 1, however either way its not good. As soon as you start backing out, from then on in, you are always thinking 'should I commit, is this too dangerous?' instead of focusing on the win. I get it... he has won a huge amount of races, he doesn't need the little wins, but as we saw on Saturday, they are all practice, and help make sure you are suitably calibrated when you do get stuck in.
3. The other teams have learnt that the best way to beat Cavendish is to simply stop him getting a run at the finish. He is getting actively bullied out of sprints. Again, this will prove very effective when your target has won a lot of races and has to ask themselves if they need to take the risk everytime. Again, the problem comes when the chap says 'Yep I'm having a piece of this' as accidents are going to happen.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [433 posts]
10th July 2014 - 11:46


Kittel's ability to perform over a range of scenarios has improved hugely. A couple of years ago, him winning on a difficult finish like Harrogate would have been pretty much unthinkable.

I'd still say Cav was tactically more astute: you don't really see Kittel ghosting in from nowhere to take a stage, and you probably never will. Partly that's because he's a big lad and can't hide like Cav does, and he relies on his lead-out which is very well drilled. but on a drag strip finish i'd say Kittel is pretty much unbeatable right now

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7855 posts]
10th July 2014 - 12:39



Merlin Cycles women's race team ~
Manx nerd peddler ~

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posted by mooleur [542 posts]
10th July 2014 - 15:45


If you go purely on a riders palmares then (currently) Cav

posted by chiv30 [997 posts]
10th July 2014 - 16:48


Hard one, going on current form it's Kittel but if his lead out train doesn't work i cant see him jumping from wheel to wheel as Cav does.

He is the best at the mo but has a long way to go before being called the greatest, which in my opinion Cav is. I think todays result shows he still has a long way to go.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

posted by stumps [3237 posts]
10th July 2014 - 17:16


ajmarshal1 wrote:
I think Greipel could soon be in the Farrar bracket too.

Ok, ok. I'm off to eat some humble pie.

posted by ajmarshal1 [402 posts]
10th July 2014 - 17:54


Nick T wrote:
Kittel is sheer strength rather than sheer power - the wattage will be roughly the same between the two, just one will be at a higher cadence with less force.

I'll dig the link out but there was a comparison of Cav, Kittel, and Greipel in terms of power data.
Cav put out a fair bit less than the german pair, his speed comes from getting so aero, not his wattage.
Off the top of my head peak power was in the region of 200-300watts difference.
If Cav put out the wattage kittel did he wouldn't be struggling to beat him, what with having a much smaller frontal area.

glynr36's picture

posted by glynr36 [639 posts]
11th July 2014 - 11:01


I'd have to give Cav the nod over Kittel! Purely because of his dominance over the years. I think the problem is that Kittel's team can match (if not better) OPQS for the train power and Kittel is a mix of Greipel (power) and Cav (ability to get aero).

Glnr36 is right Cav puts out around 1400 watts in a sprint whilst Greipel/Kittel put out around 1600-1700 but are less effiecient. i think it balances out.

Cav is the greatest and i'd wager the fastest as well, last year he had the whole giro in his legs, this year he made a mistake and paid for it. i say send them to the vuelta and see for sure!

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posted by bikemadjo [74 posts]
11th July 2014 - 14:08


Cav is arguably the best or second best ever Tour sprinter, based on his stage wins, but Kittel currently seems to be the fastest sprinter.

posted by Kadenz [69 posts]
11th July 2014 - 20:46


Don't know about who is the greatest but Kittel doesn't seem to get himself involved in any where near as many crashes as Cav does. In this respect, Kittel seems to be a more disciplined and measured sort of rider, while Cav can be more predatory, opportunistic and, err, physical. Kittel will always rely on his well-drilled and extremely efficient lead out train. Cav, on the other hand, while also relying on his lead out train to a great degree, has shown time and again that in the absence of a lead out instinctively knows which wheel to follow. He can also see opportunities and openings that others may have missed. This, of course, can sometimes create a certain amount of contact with other riders. Hence the crashes. Cav's background in track racing has undoubtedly stood him in good stead; physical contact with other riders and having to fight for and hold your position play a central role in track sprints. At the end of the day though, you can't win a sprint if you crash out...

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posted by cavasta [220 posts]
12th July 2014 - 23:23