André Greipel has signed for Fortuneo-Samsic, the team announced on Thursday. The German sprinter is leaving Lotto Soudal after a contract dispute and will join the French Professional Continental team on a two-year deal.
Greipel has notched up 93 of his 153 professional victories during seven-and-a-half years at Lotto Soudal, but relations started to sour this summer as he and the Belgian team's management clashed over the length and terms of a possible new deal.
During the Tour de France, a terse announcement was made by the team, simply stating: "Lotto Soudal and Andre Greipel want to inform you that after eight successful years, their collaboration comes to an end."
Greipel, 36, has since been linked with a number of teams but on Thursday, Fortuneo-Samsic announced they had secured his services. The team, embedded firmly in the Brittany region of north-west France, were founded in 2005 and have grown steadily in the past few years, moving up to Pro Conti level in 2011 and then making their Tour de France debut in 2014. Last winter they made a marquee signing in Warren Barguil, winner of two stages and the mountains classification at the 2017 Tour de France.
The move marks a big change for Greipel, who insists he isn't slowing down despite his 36 years of age. He has ridden all his career in cycling's top tier, and even if he will still be able to ride the Tour de France and a number of other WorldTour events - mostly in France - he will have to adapt to the new calendar and new surroundings in cycling's second division.
"Since I started riding my bike, I've wanted to win races and look for new challenges. I wanted to take on something else - you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone in order to progress," Greipel said.
"I expect a lot of my new team. I want to take inspiration from the young and free spirit but I also expect trust, commitment, and team spirit. Cycling is a team sport, and to win you need to have a solid and strong team. I will strive to help develop this young, talented squad while also pursuing my personal goals. Next season, I want to be at 100 per cent. I want to bring my athletic qualities to the table but also my character and my experience. I'm keen to take on my new role, in this new environment.
"I understand and speak a little French but after the first races I should be much more comfortable with it. I know the team is very attached to its Breton roots - the Tour de France has often visited the region and I've already seen how it's a land of cycling."
For Fortuneo-Samsic's general manager, Emmanuel Hubert, the arrival of Griepel is the second big scoop into the transfer market in as many years. Barguil, a Breton himself, joined as the team's figurehead last year and even if he has struggled to replicate that form in his new colours, Greipel gives the team a world-class two-pronged approach.
"I'm very happy to announce the arrival of André Greipel. He's a rider that all managers follow closely. 153 victories as a pro since 2005, 22 Grand Tour victories - that doesn't go unnoticed," said Hubert.
"This year, he has won six times. In joining our team, Andre Greipel is making a bold move. At 36, he's giving himself a new youth. He will discover a new team but also a new country and new races. Personally, I'm keen to see him in our jersey at the biggest races, like the Tour de France, but also on our French calendar.
"It's also a super opportunity for Bram Welten. Our 21-year-old sprinter will be able to learn from one of the best sprint specialists. I think the whole team is going to progress enormously with this great champion. We're going in the right direction. With Warren and André we have great cards for the sprints and in the mountains. We're going to do everything so that our leaders can show the best of themselves."