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There are no more UCI WorldTour races until the end of February, but the sprinters are already sharpening their weapons for the season ahead. In the past week or so, there have been victories for André Greipel and Dan McLay in Mallorca, Caleb Ewen, Sam Bennett and Danny van Poppel in Australia, Fernando Gaviria and Tom Boonen in Argentina, Marcel Kittel in Dubai and Arnaud Démare in France.
John Wilcockson / Image: Yuzuru Sunada
Sprinting has become one of the most competitive elements of road racing in recent years, and the likes of Greipel and Kittel are candidates for the top sprinters of the modern era. Through the first part of the last century and into the 1960s and ’70s, riders such as André Darrigade, Rik Van Steenbergen, Rik Van Looy, Patrick Sercu and Freddy Maertens were the ones most likely to win grand tour bunch gallops and also be competitive in the classics and worlds. Even five-time Tour de France champions Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault were known to win field sprints.
RELATED: Your Race Briefing for Wednesday, February 1st, 2017.
It wasn’t until the ’80s though that we began seeing more specialist road sprinters. So who were the best sprinters of the past four decades? Over the next week or so, we’ll look at those we believe make the top-10 list—starting with No. 10, Djamolidin Abdujaparov.
We called him Abdu or the Tashkent Terror, in deference to his Uzbekistan homeland and his sometimes terrifying tactics in the sprint. In a pro career that lasted only eight years, he won 17 stages in grand tours, along with a single spring classic, Ghent-Wevelgem.
Abdu wasn’t a sprinter who relied on a big lead-out train; he could make his own path through the peloton and seemingly come from nowhere to accelerate through to victory. This image is from the final stage of the 1995 Tour, with Abdu taking a decisive win on the Champs-Élysées ahead of the Italians Gianmatteo Fagnini and Giovanni Lombardi.
A personal memory comes from the Paris stage of the Tour in 1991. Abdu had already clinched the sprinters’ green jersey (the first of three) and was headed to another stage win in his debut Tour when he clipped the foot of a metal barrier and slammed into one of the giant-size, fiber-glass Coke cans lining the finish straight—I kept a splinter from that artificial can as a souvenir.