Mark Cavendish had dominated the Tour’s bunch finishes from 2008, but he was dethroned at last year’s race by Marcel Kittel, who picked up four wins.
The 2014 sprints look set to be more keenly contested than ever, and here we look at nine riders who will be vying for glory…
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step)
Three years ago the Manx Missile was a shoe-in to pick up at least four stage wins at the Tour de France, and while he remains one of the fastest men in the peloton, the dynamic of the sprinting world has very much changed. Now, Cavendish has to fight harder than ever for victories in the face of new and younger competition, which was exemplified by the fact the he only won twice at last year’s Tour. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old Omega Pharma – Quick-Step rider has picked up nine wins so far this season and will no doubt be looking to add to his huge tally of 25 career Tour stage victories.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano)
If Cavendish is no longer the king of sprinting, the man who now holds that status is undoubtedly Kittel. The 26-year-old German seems to get better with every race and, having picked up four wins at last year’s Tour, he will go into the 2014 edition as the man to beat in bunch finishes. Kittel actually only has seven wins to his name so far this season, but two of those came at the Giro d’Italia, with the latter being a truly staggering piece of sprinting. Entering the final 500m well down the field, the Giant-Shimano rider produced a remarkable late surge to pip Britain’s Ben Swift to the line, and duly crumpled to the ground in exhaustion afterwards. It was arguably the best piece of sprinting the sport has seen since Cavendish in his pomp.
Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol)
The 31-year-old German took only one victory at last year's Tour but remains one of the fastest and most powerful riders in the peloton and should be in the thick of the sprinting action this time around. Despite an enforced lay-off after suffering a broken collarbone in March, he has picked up an impressive 12 victories already this year, including retaining his German national road race title last weekend, which proved he is back to top form heading into the Tour.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
The brilliant Slovak has dominated the points classification in each of the past two Tours and is heavily fancied to make it three green jerseys in a row this year. He may not have the raw speed to match the likes of Kittel and Cavendish in the pan-flat sprints, but if a stage rolls and comes down to a reduced-bunch finish among climbers and rouleurs, he will be the outstanding favourite to win. Even on flatter days, he will almost always be in and around the top three – as was the case in 2013’s Tour, when he picked up no fewer than seven podiums.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano)
The powerful German is Giant-Shimano’s second card to play in sprints and although he will not be the protected rider on pan-flat stages, he will come to the fore on the more undulating run-ins. Degenkolb proved his quality in the spring Classics with a win at Gent-Wevelgem and then a second place at Paris-Roubaix, and those shows of strength suggested he could be a major rival to Sagan on the more challenging sprint days.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
The 26-year-old Norwegian is another rider in the mould of Sagan and Degenkolb who will struggle to challenge on pan-flat finishes but could thrive on days where sprints are preceded by small climbs. This was no better exemplified by his victory at the Milan-San Remo in March, where he crested the famous Poggio climb at the head of the race and then defeated Cavendish, Sagan and Fabian Cancellara, among others.
Elia Viviani (Cannondale)
The Italian has had an up-and-down season so far, picking up only four wins, but two of those came at the Tour of Turkey after he had beaten Cavendish for pace fair and square. Viviani then went to the Giro d’Italia and promptly failed to make any sort of impact, but his performances in Turkey were ample evidence that, on his day, he can be a force to be reckoned with.
Arnaud Demare (FDJ)
Such is the talent of the 22-year-old Frenchman, FDJ have decided to select him ahead of the more established Nacer Bouhanni. British fans will remember Demare for winning the inaugural RideLondon Classic last August, and they could become even more familiar with him should he find top form at the Tour. That is a distinct possibility given that he has picked up seven sprint wins this season, four of which came in a prolific May, propelling him to overall victories at the Four Days of Dunkirk and the Tour de Picardie. He has also just been crowned French national road race champion after defeating Bouhanni last weekend. Demare has got plenty of improving still to do, but is nevertheless already one to watch.
Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida)
The Italian is not in the top class of sprinters occupied by the likes of Kittel and Cavendish, but he can be a threat on his day and has picked up seven wins already this season. Admittedly, most of those were at lesser races with weaker opposition, but his challenge can nevertheless not be discounted.