Germany is not short of blindingly quick road men, so spare a thought for John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), forced to find a niche as a fast-finishing puncheur in an era that boasts team-mate Marcel Kittel and national champion, Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), among the faster of his countrymen on a flat finish.
Life as a puncher with a sprint, however, seems to be suiting Degenkolb well. The 25-year-old has already won three stages at the Tour Méditerranéen and one at Paris-Nice this season, leading the latter for a day and winning the points jersey.
A truly impressive quintet of Grand Tour stage victories at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana announced Degenkolb’s talent on one of cycling’s biggest stages, but it’s fair to say his star has been eclipsed by team-mate and countryman, Kittel: Degenkolb’s sole stage of last season’s Giro d’Italia was certainly overshadowed by Kittel’s quartet at the Tour. Giant-Shimano, boasting an embarrassment of sprinting riches and a vacancy in the role of GC contender that puts one in mind of HTC, has had to find other uses for him.
Could Degenkolb mature into a Classics rider, able to mount a challenge in the Ardennes as well as in the hillier cobbled races? Victory in last year’s Vattenfall Cyclassics and Paris-Tours suggests victory in grueling one day races typically decided by a sprint is not beyond him. Gent-Wevelgem should suit him well.