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The winner of the Tour de France is typically determined by which of the wiry climbers takes the most time off the rest of the field in the Alps and Pyrenees. But when the peloton flies down the Champs-Elysées on its final day, the focus shifts to an altogether different beast: the sprinter.

So who is the best of the fast men? In an attempt to find out, we turned to the Elo ratings system, created for ranking chess players and adapted for several sports.

The system adjusts for participants’ relative abilities, so when a favourite beats a lowly competitor fewer points move from loser to winner than is the case for a surprise win.

And the results are a good representation of what most fans would expect. Manxman Mark Cavendish was peerless throughout his early career, but his dominance was challenged after he left team HTC Highroad, whose personnel and tactics had been built around him.

Marcel Kittel was the first to challenge his supremacy, and in 2014 the younger rival established himself as the new number one, both anecdotally and in our rankings system.

This year he has suffered with illness, and it’s his compatriot André Greipel — a former understudy to Cavendish — who now vies with the “Manx Missile” for the top spot.

The question is whether Kittel will regain his supremacy when he next meets a rival for a 50mph tête-à-tête.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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