Most of the peloton’s top sprinters are heading to the Giro d’Italia, which clicks into gear Saturday in Denmark, but one big name that will be missing is André Greipel.
The Lotto-Belisol sprinter is taking a pass on the Giro, in part to race the Tour of Belgium instead to keep sponsors happy. It’s also a move designed to bring Greipel in top shape for the Tour de France and Olympic Games.
“We are working on that for the Tour. We have big expectations for the Tour this year,” Greipel told VeloNews. “The Tour will be the main objective, so I hope to be ready for that.”
Greipel, nicknamed “The Gorilla,” has had a solid start to the season – his second with Lotto-Belisol – picking up six victories so far, the latest coming last week at the Tour of Turkey.
After riding in the shadow of former teammate Mark Cavendish (now with Sky), Greipel took a chance to join Lotto in 2011 and strike out on his own.
The move paid off, with eight wins, including a first-ever stage at the Tour de France, and third at the road world cycling championships.
“I am really happy on this team. It’s very familiar here,” Greipel said. “I feel very comfortable here and that is very important for me – to have a nice feeling, that everyone works together. That’s a big difference.”
The big difference for Greipel compared to his days at HTC is that he is the team’s lead sprinter. He’s no longer fighting for starts in the major races against Cavendish and Matt Goss (now Orica-GreenEdge).
With Lotto he’s been getting those starts in more important races, and last year he delivered a huge stage win at the Tour in stage 10 to Carmaux, when he knocked back Cavendish in a thrilling duel.
“For me, winning a stage last year in the Tour, it changed nothing for me as a person. It was a dream coming true,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t believe I could win a race like this, but I showed them I could with some good sprints there.”
For 2012, Greipel will return to the Tour with even higher ambitions, but balked at saying the green jersey would be a targeted goal.
“My goal is to win a stage. Everything else behind will be a bonus,” he said.
Since 2011, Lotto-Belisol has developed a formidable lead-out train to help deliver Greipel to the line. Key riders helping Greipel are Greg Henderson, Lars Bak, Marcel Sieberg, Adam Hansen and Jurgen Roelandts.
The big question now is how management will balance Greipel’s needs with the GC hopes of Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
“I would like to have my lead-out train there,” he said. “This year could be even better with the lead-out train. I would like to take them all. They are so strong; all I need to do is follow the guys. They can make the difference before the sprint. The last decision is by the team manager.”
Team Sky will face a similar quandary, with Bradley Wiggins looking to have Tour-winning legs following dramatic victories at Paris-Nice and Tour de Romandie, which could affect Cavendish’s chances.
Greipel said he wouldn’t be surprised to see his archrival Cavendish having less riders at his disposal on Team Sky due to Wiggins’ ascending GC hopes, meaning that other teams will step in to control the sprint stages.
“When you have the possibility to win the Tour de France, you have to take the best team to the Tour to control the race in the mountains,” he said of Team Sky. “There will be teams to control the sprints. Which ones? Lotto. Why not? It depends which riders we take. We have also Vanendert and Van Den Broeck for the GC. I do not expect to have those guys working for me in the sprint, but I can help them in the other stages. We have to wait to see the selection for the Tour.”
If Greipel sounds a little nervous about which riders will be at his disposal for the Tour, he has a strong opinion about what should happen at the Olympic Games road race.
With only five spots per team, Germany will be grappling with the same issues that all the major teams will be facing in selections its squads for the London Games.
On paper, Germany will have a strong squad, with world time trial champion Tony Martin and a bevy of sprinters, such as Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb.
But Greipel insists there should only be one captain, and he believes that he should be that man.
“Who can win then, when you have so many leaders? With five spots, you can take just one leader. That’s how it should work,” he said. “We actually just have three spots because Martin and Grabsch are already selected for the time trial, so you need just one leader and two more helpers.”
Greipel and some German teammates were scouting the Box Hill circuit for the first time this week.
With a decision not coming until July, Greipel will want to hit the Tour de France on winning form to secure a spot for a shot at the gold medal.
“I hope to go to London,” he said. “A gold medal wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have.”