FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — German sprinter André Greipel is leaving Lotto-Soudal for French Pro Continental team Fortuneo-Samsic.
“The Gorilla,” 36, found his options limited when the Belgian WorldTour team made a deal with Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.
“I will try hard to advance this young and talented formation while pursuing my own goals,” Greipel said.
“Next season, I want to be on top form. I want to contribute with my riding qualities but also my personality and my experience. I’m looking forward to discovering my new role in this new environment.”
Said general manager Emmanuel Hubert: “By joining our team, André Greipel is taking a bold decision. At 36, he’s giving himself a new lease on life.
“He will discover a new team but also a new country and new races. I’m personally looking forward to seeing him riding with our jersey on big races like the Tour de France but also on local races.”
As a second-division squad, Fortuneo must rely on wildcard invitations to compete in the sport’s biggest races like the Tour de France. It should have no problems with Greipel, who has 11 Tour stage victories, and climber Warren Barguil.
Greipel last won at the Tour in 2016, when he capped the race by winning on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. In 2018, he has earned eight of Lotto’s 22 wins.
The German’s decision to leave Lotto after eight seasons came when news emerged that the 24-year-old sprinter Ewan would join the team from Mitchelton-Scott for 2019.
Lotto made an offer, but Greipel wanted more for what could be his last two seasons. The team reportedly only offered one instead of two years and could not guarantee he would lead its sprint arm at the big races.
“Greipel wanted to wait until the Tour’s second day of rest to make a decision, so his future was a question that was dragged along,” Lotto-Soudal general manager Marc Sergeant told Sporza. “Maybe the Tour was disappointed.
“The proposal was already on the table. He phoned in tears, saying that he did not want to accept our proposal.
“His decision was a disappointment because we experienced nice years with André. I remember well that we were jumping with joy on the Champs-Élysées when he won there for the first time. I will also be eternally grateful to him for that.”
Greipel counts a massive 153 wins since starting in 2005. He rode for T-Mobile/Highroad and then left after tension emerged with Mark Cavendish to join Lotto.
He abandoned, like many sprinters, in the recent Tour de France. He placed third on stage 4 and fourth in another. In stage 12 heading to Alpe d’Huez, he quit with Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Greipel later made headlines from home when he insinuated that Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) held onto a team car in the mountains. Démare shot back, “I thought you were smarter.”
That led to an apology. Greipel said he looked at the wrong data and called it a “lesson learned.”
Greipel will be in action again later this month at the Tour of Poland.
Lotto-Soudal confirmed rumors Sunday that André Greipel will leave the team at the end of this season.
Reports suggest that Greipel was seeking a two-year contract extension with the Belgian team that’s been his professional home since 2011 while the team was only offering one year. Officials did not explain why the longtime partnership is coming to an end.
“Lotto-Soudal and André Greipel want to inform you that after eight successful years, their collaboration comes to an end,” a press note read. “Once André has announced his plans for the future, both André and the team will be available to give more explanation.”
The 36-year-old German joined the Belgian team in 2011, and won stages in the Tour de France six seasons in a row.
Last year, Greipel failed to win a Tour stage en route to finishing second in the points competition. Greipel abandoned this year’s Tour in stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez without winning a stage for the season year in a row.
Reports link the Belgian team to Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan, who was left home by his current Mitchelton-Scott squad in what was expected to be his Tour debut.
Marcel Sieberg, a loyal Greipel helper, also confirmed Sunday he would be leaving Lotto-Soudal at the end of this season.
The official signing season opens August 1, but most of the bigger deals are hammered out during the Tour de France. Agents and team managers will be busy on Monday’s rest day trying to close deals.
The dynamic continued during stage 12, a 175km stage to l’Alpe d’Huez. Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the first sprinter to abandon, and then Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Bellisol) called it quits. Also abandoning was Rick Zabel (Katusha), who was time cut on stage 11, but allowed to continue because he suffered a mechanical.
“I cannot remember ever seeing something like this.”
In total 12 riders left the race during the two stages.
“I cannot remember ever seeing something like this,” said Dimension Data manager Rolf Aldag, who raced the Tour 10 times during his 16-year pro career. “There were always sprinters in difficulty but in two days we have seen a challenge.”
Now, just three sprinters with bunch-kick Tour victories are left to contest the remaining flat stages: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). And second-tier fast men like Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), may seize an opportunity to win.
VeloNews spoke with riders and team sources to better understand why so many sprinters left the race, why some sprinters survived, and whether the Tour de France organizers need to adjust the rules.
Reasons for the exodus
This Tour’s three-day run through the Alps was unquestionably punishing, yet previous races have included similarly hard routes. So why did so many sprinters fail?
Riders and directors pointed to various reasons. The shrinking of teams from nine to eight riders has forced some teams to choose riders for the GC instead of the sprint, which has decreased the size of the grupetto that forms on sprint stages. Modern training methods and specialization have perhaps widened the gap between sprinters and climbers.
“There is a feeling that the pace is very fast this year,” said Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). “It was clear from the first mountain day that the real sprinters were going to have to fight to get in the [cutoff] time.
All sources that VeloNews spoke with pointed at stage 11 as the primary culprit for the exodus. Just 108km long (67 miles), the stage included three successive and sizable climbs, with almost no flat road. It was yet another experimental route organized by ASO to inject excitement into the Tour. And it was sandwiched between two other punishing stages in the mountains.
“It was ridiculously hard,” said Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida). I’ve never done a stage like that in my life.”
The short, punishing route meant that the sprinter grupetto had to ride a stiff tempo just to avoid the time cut. For every stage, the Tour sets the time cut as a percentage of the winning time. Which percentage organizers choose is based on a convoluted system that factors in the overall difficulty and average speed of the winner. Sprinters often rely on flat roads to narrow the gap to the front group on climbing days. Without much flat, sprinters had to push themselves on the climbs harder than they may have done on a longer stage.
“It was ridiculously hard. I’ve never done a stage like that in my life.”
The effort to simply survive was huge, and it had consequences for Thursday’s stage to l’Alpe d’Huez.
“If a sprinter had to go full-gas yesterday, then there was nothing left today,” Aldag said after Thursday’s stage. “There was no way to recover property overnight and get ready for a big stage like today.”
The pace did not slow down on stage 11 to l’Alpe d’Huez, as an early breakaway attacked on the Col de la Madeleine, forcing Team Sky rode a hard tempo to keep the move in check. The aggression shed the sprinters within the opening kilometers of the stage. That tempo only increased throughout the day, as Sky’s domestiques poured on the pace.
The grupetto fell further and further behind. Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Groenewegen were first to be dropped, and eventually gave up after determining they could not make the time cut. Gaviria and Greipel were next.
John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) said Sky’s intense pacing at this year’s Tour added to the challenge.
“The problem is Sky is so strong. They go their own pace and still they are with a full team at the front, so the distance to [sprinters] only grows,” Degenkolb said. “That pace is too high for me and a lot of guys to stay close.”
Thor Hushovd, twice a winner of the Tour’s points classification, believes another factor may have contributed to the loss: June races. In recent years the peloton’s fastest sprinters have chosen to race the Amgen Tour of California and Tour of Slovenia, rather than tackle traditional warm-up races Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse. By choosing this option, the sprinters miss out on long, punishing stages in the Alps.
Sagan and Démare both raced the Tour de Suisse.
“A lot of these guys didn’t do a stage race with bigger hills in it, and they are perhaps missing those efforts,” Hushovd said. “I always needed to do the Dauphiné to get used to the hills. That was an important part of the preparation for me.”
How some survived
Teams saw the potential for time cuts during stages 11 and 12 and prepared specific strategies to help their sprinters survive the Alps. Degenkolb focused on a pacing strategy to help him survive the Col de la Madeleine without falling too far back. Directors had teammate Michael Gogl stay behind with Degenkolb to pace him up the Col de la Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez. Degenkolb finished 32 minutes in arrears.
“It was important for me not to over-pace myself on the first climb,” Degenkolb said. “I knew that 1km into the first mountain I would never see the bunch again, so I had to simply let it go and then ride at a pace I was comfortable with to the finish.”
Other teams employed a completely different strategy. Bora-Hansgrohe predicted the time cut would be approximately 38 minutes for the stage. Directors had Peter Sagan ride near his limit to the top of the Col de la Madeleine in order to stay as close as possible to the front group. Sagan then chased on the descent before settling into a comfortable rhythm. He rode to the finish alongside his teammate, Daniel Oss.
“Peter’s finish line was the top of the Madeleine,” said Sagan’s coach Patxi Vila. “So then you have 38 minutes to lose over two climbs. Downhill you go the same speed as the front group. So that is 19 minutes to lose on each [climb]. That’s 1.5 minutes per each kilometer, and he can do that.”
The day after the abandons, calls to permanently widen the time cut echoed through the peloton.
“I think the time cut was too narrow,” said Brian Holm, director at Quick-Step. “When you see somebody like Greipel lose it — and he is quite good in the mountains — it leads you to believe it is too narrow.”
Aldag said the Tour should adjust the cut for shorter stages that feature mountains.
“When the length of racing is only three and a half hours in the mountains then there is simply no time to make it up,” Aldag said. “You only have up, down, up, down, there’s no flat to take it back.”
Indeed Tour officials did extend the cutoff time during Thursday’s stage to Alpe d’Huez, however, the decision was made midway through the stage, after Gaviria, Greipel, and Groenewegen all quit. That decision was puzzling to riders in the peloton, even those who survived the day.
“You only have up, down, up, down, there’s no flat to take it back.”
“You saw many sprinters abandon yesterday because we had a tight time cut. We started the day and we thought we had 30 minutes and we thought it would be hard,” Kristoff said. “They moved the cut during the stage which was a bit strange. We were fighting for half an hour and suddenly we have 40-minute time cut. It’s strange when they change the rules during a race.”
Whether or not Tour organizers extend the cut remains to be seen. What is known is that the Tour’s sprinters will face a similar dynamic in the Pyrenees, where climbs, a short 65km stage, and intense racing are all on tap.
André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and two-time Tour stage-winners this year Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) abandoned stage 12.
All three pulled off as a dangerous breakaway chugged clear on the brutal three-climb stage across the Alps. With some GC threats in the breakaway group, including Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) who started the stage sixth overall, the main pack led by Team Sky set a menacing pace. The peloton fractured early and several top names pulled the plug on their respective 2018 Tour.
The high-profile abandons have immediate implications.
First, Gaviria’s exit all but assures Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) a record-tying sixth green jersey if he makes it to Paris. Gaviria was the only rider challenging Sagan up to now.
Second, the departures mean more chances for the sprinters still in the race for the three sprint-likely stages remaining in the Tour.
Other riders to abandon include Tony Gallopin, a key helper to Romain Bardet, who only has four Ag2r La Mondiale teammates left in the race.
EF-Drapac’s Rigoberto Urán, second overall last year, also did not start in the wake of heavy injuries from his crash in stage 9 on the cobblestones.
Greipel’s Lotto-Soudal teammate Marcel Sieberg is also out, as is another lead-out man, Katusha-Alpecin’s Rick Zabel, who was granted clemency by the race jury on Wednesday after finishing mere seconds after the day’s time cut.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — German André Greipel is known for his grand tour sprints, but loves and respects the cobbled classics, like Paris-Roubaix, that he will return to them this spring to help Lotto Soudal.
Greipel each year finds a spot on his schedule to race the cobbled classics after Milano-Sanremo and a way to smash his rivals with attacks on the muurs or sectors. But why not just save his strength for the grand tours, where he already counts seven stage wins in the Giro d’Italia and 11 in the Tour de France?
“Because it’s a piece of history in cycling and it’s nice to be part of these races,” Greipel told VeloNews.
“It fits a bit of my characteristics of a racer. Of course, I’m a sprinter and I have to wait a lot to do the sprints, but at the end of the day, I like to race how they do in the classics.”
This year’s Tour of Flanders runs April 1 and Paris-Roubaix the week after, April 8.
Some wonder why Greipel rides the toughest classics when the other sprinters skip them to save themselves solely for Milano-Sanremo, Scheldeprijs, or the grand tours later on. But the 35-year-old German has a good understanding of cycling’s history and what the races mean, especially for a Belgian team like Lotto-Soudal.
Greipel attacked last year in the Tour of Flanders and led with Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan in Paris-Roubaix. He placed seventh in the Roubaix Velodrome behind Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). He has competed in those races nearly every year since joining Lotto Soudal from Team Highroad in 2011.
“Those two and a half weeks, those teams and the whole country live for those classics,” Greipel said. “It’s a special atmosphere and it’s an important time for us.
“We have a lot of leaders with Jens Keukeleire, Tiesj Benoot … We will find out in the race, but it’s not about waiting for [Peter] Sagan, [Alexander] Kristoff or [Greg] Van Avermaet, you have to take the race in hands and try to risk something.”
Paris-Roubaix’s honor roll includes sprinters like John Degenkolb, Tom Boonen, Stuart O’Grady, and Magnus Backstedt.
“For sure, you need to have a bit of power in the legs to survive those races, you need to be good in positioning, of course, and in the mind to know what’s coming up in the next sectors,” Greipel said.
“A dream to win Roubaix? It would be a bit too much to say I can win a classic or something, but I do want to make the best out of it, try my best.
“Of course, I wouldn’t say no, but it’s really a tough race and I know that everything has to be right to win it.”
Greipel’s big one day victories include the 2015 Vattenfall Cyclassics and twice the Brussels Cycling Classic.
VITTEL, France (AFP) — German sprinter André Greipel hit out at Peter Sagan after the world champion elbowed Mark Cavendish into the safety barriers in the sprint finish to Tuesday’s Tour de France fourth stage.
A bleeding Cavendish was taken to hospital by ambulance with his arm in a sling and nursing finger and shoulder injuries after crashing hard 100 metres from the finish line.
Sagan, who was kicked out of the Tour for his action, had shoved an elbow into Cavendish in the sprint finish to the 207.5km stage from Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel, causing a spectacular crash.
And Greipel’s manager at Lotto-Soudal Marc Sergeant said the German was fuming at Sagan for his sprint tactics.
“I asked André. He was quite pissed (off) by the attitude of Sagan, making some moves which he shouldn’t make,” Sergeant told Eurosport.
“Yesterday it was the same thing in the intermediate sprint, he gave an elbow to André and he (Greipel) was a little bit pissed (off) yesterday already.
“Twice in a row is too much. Greipel was saying, ‘He isn’t my friend anymore from now on’.”
At the finish, Sagan, 27, had initially told reporters he didn’t understand Greipel’s ire.
“Greipel was angry with me but I don’t know why, you’d have to ask him,” said Sagan.
But those watching television pictures had no doubt about what they’d seen.
“I’ve now been able to watch the replay of the sprint a few times. Sagan deserves DQ on that one. Hope @MarkCavendish is ok. That was heavy,” Australian Robbie McEwan, a former cyclist and top sprinter himself having won 12 Tour stages, said on Twitter.
Sagan had originally finished second to stage winner Arnaud Démare of France, which would have moved him up to second overall thanks to a six-second time bonus.
However, he will now take no further part in the Tour.
It means the sprinters’ green jersey, which Sagan dominated in each of the last five years, is now up for grabs.
Démare leads the race thanks to 50 points for winning the stage.
He said the race jury had “shown guts” in punishing the world champion.
“Now I’ve got a chance for green,” he added.
He leads the competition with 124 points with previous holder Marcel Kittel, who was held up by another crash in the final kilometre and couldn’t contest the sprint finish, second on 81 points.
Sagan had been bidding to match German Erik Zabel’s record of six green jersey victories.