ARRAS, France (VN) — André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) has been the nowhere man so far in the Tour de France sprints.
But Greipel and Lotto-Belisol got their red train back on track with a sprint victory in stage 6, after surviving Wednesday’s cobblestone adventure.
The big German nicknamed the “Gorilla” is usually a front-line protagonist in the mass gallops, but in the opening three sprints, he’s been on his back foot.
“There is nothing wrong with André, he just needs a good sprint to gain his confidence back,” Lotto-Belisol manager Mark Sergeant told VeloNews. “Things went badly in the first sprints. He lost the wheel of the last man, first it was [Greg] Henderson, then it was [Jurgen} Roelandts. They were there, but André was not on the wheel. He needs a good leadout, and when he doesn't, it's not good for him."
Greipel, 31, has emerged as one of the most consistent sprinters in the bunch, scoring more than 100 pro wins, almost all of them in mass gallops.
Until Thursday, he hadn't been a factor in three sprints, finishing 18th in Harrogate, 23rd in London, and a more encouraging sixth in Lille.
If Greipel is getting frustrated, he's not wearing it on his sleeve. He was all smiles before Thursday's stage, only saying, "We'll try again today."
"He gets angry with himself, but not his teammates. He respects them, and what they do for him," Sergeant said. "He has to get over that barrier. He needs to be sprinting in the first row. Last year, it also took a few stages."
Though arch-rival and former teammate Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) outshone him over the past few seasons, Greipel consistently picked up important victories.
During the past three Tours, Greipel has been a major player in the sprints, winning a stage in 2011, another last year, and three in 2012.
The emergence of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), who has won all three of the bunch sprints contested so far in this Tour, presents Lotto-Belisol with another challenge.
"There is another strong German guy. He seems unbeatable right now," Sergeant continued. "The last one [stage 4], he was not unbeatable anymore. [Alexander] Kristoff almost got him. André needs to be in the right position to make his sprint to try to beat Kittel.”
Lotto-Belisol, along with Giant-Shimano and Omega Pharma-Quick Step, bring well-developed, finely tuned leadout trains for their sprint aces.
With Cavendish crashing out in stage 1, the weight of controlling each sprint stage has fallen to Lotto-Belisol and Giant-Shimano. Sergeant couldn’t help but point out that other teams with sprinters are not doing their fair share of the workload.
“So far, only Giant-Shimano is helping us to work. I don’t understand why you bring a sprinter to the Tour, but you’re not willing to work in the stage. I am hoping to see a little from FDJ, Katusha, and Europcar,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work, but only with Lars [Bak]. He is as strong as a horse. He just asks where to go, and he goes.”
Lotto’s sprint train took a blow, however, when leadout man Henderson, 37, crashed out in stage 4, falling heavily on his knee after slipping out in a traffic circle. The veteran leadout man was a key motor in the Lotto train.
“Losing Henderson is a huge impact, not only for what he does in the race, but also mentally,” he said. “He is very strong in the head, and he can convince the team they can win. When he says something, it’s powerful. It’s a real shame to lose him.”
With Kittel’s rise, Lotto has been forced to reshape its goals. After misfiring in the opening sprints, the team is now recalibrating, and its first step is simply to put Greipel in position to open up his sprint.
Greipel brings deep power to the sprints, but he needs a clear approach to allow him to wind up his engine, to produce 1,800 watts in the final surge.
Right now, Lotto-Belisol is going back to the basics. First, put Greipel in position to have a shot at the sprint, and then try to win. The team did just that on Thursday to notch its first win in advance of the Tour’s mountain stages.