After a difficult season, both on and off the bike, Andre Greipel is looking to reignite his career at the Tour Down Under this week. The race has been a happy hunting ground for the German sprinter over the years, with two overall titles and a run of 16 stages wins that no other rider in history can match, but as Cyclingnews found out in Adelaide the German has no intention of calling time on his career and is as hungry as ever to win.
“I’m going to find out my form in the race, I guess. It’s not always easy to finish a season in October and then start racing in January. You need to take some time off and it would be wrong to be in top condition at the moment,” he modestly tells Cyclingnews as we sit down in the lobby of the race hotel in downtown Adelaide.
The Tour Down Under has a relatively robust sprint field this year. Greipel plays the role of the elder statesman, while Caleb Ewan arrives as the swashbuckling home-town favourite. There should be cameos from the likes of Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett but this race perhaps means more to Greipel than the others. In the fickle world of sprinting you’re only as good as your last win, and while 2017 was far from a disaster on the bike, a disappointing Tour de France saw the 35-year-old miss out on a stage win in a Grand Tour for the first time this decade. When, during the Tour, the man himself even started doubting whether he still had the sharpness to win, questions began to be asked.
“Sometimes in difficult moments, you say stupid things,” he says with a grin that portrays years of experience.
“It wasn’t the easiest year but that’s what sport is about. You can have ups and downs. I’ve had lots of ups but last year’s Tour wasn’t my best one. It wasn’t that I wasn’t there in the sprints. Sometimes I just had bad luck, plus there was a pretty strong Marcel Kittel, who made it hard for everyone to win stages. Sometimes you just have to accept that.”
No review of Greipel’s year would be complete without understanding what he endured off the bike in 2017. His mother passed away after a long illness last winter, and although he quickly states that there were no excuses for his performances last term, one must empathise with the man. Greipel is a quiet, shy person but he is a devoted family man and last year as his mother’s condition sadly deteriorated he would often drive the hundreds of kilometres back home to help care for her along with his sister. Mentally, and physically, it’s hard to understand what he must have gone through but the way in which he kept plugging away on the road deserves much credit. Unlike a number of WorldTour teams, Lotto Soudal does not have a GC rider, and they rely on Greipel – as they have done for years now – to provide them with the lion share of their results. The pressure must have been a heavy burden.
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