The 104th edition of the Scheldeprijs lived up to its reputation of being a sprinter’s world championships race. A redesigned finale and smaller peloton attracted most of the top sprinters, including André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) who stayed away for several years.
Greipel is working his way back to top form after sustaining a rib injury in February. Race organizers offered him a massive bottle of Kwaremont beer at the start podium in Antwerp on Wednesday morning to thank him for showing up. He thanked them with a third place behind four-time winner Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
A third place usually doesn’t please the German powerhouse but on Wednesday he seemed rather content. Partly due to his rib injury but also because the sprint was contested in the rain.
“It’s not my weather: the rain and the cold. I always have problems in these conditions,” Greipel said. “I can be happy now with the third place. I know I can sprint better than I did today but ‘today is today’ and the best rider won, today. If I could turn it back I could not have done it any better. I had a good position. Unfortunately I didn’t have the legs. I’m looking forward to contest in more sprints now.”
The 33-year-old crashed hard during the fourth stage of the Volta ao Algarve on February 21. Greipel fractured a rib on his left side and had to skip his participation in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. He restarted competition in Paris-Nice on March 6 with a third place behind Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in fourth stage finish town Romans-sur-Isère as a sign of increasing form. He didn’t finish a tough edition of Gent-Wevelgem and quietly completed the Three days of De Panne-Koksijde, not able to get a top-10 result in the bunch sprint on the second day.
At the Tour of Flanders, Greipel seemed reborn, featuring in a breakaway move that put his teammates in a comfortable position. He finished 28th in Oudenaarde last Sunday.
“In the sprint I didn’t feel like I was recovered from that. But hey, today is the Scheldeprijs and nobody was asking me to ride my guts out in the breakaway,” Greipel said, laughing.
Before the race Greipel said he wasn’t completely sure that the Scheldeprijs would have its traditional scenario because of the wind and rain. “It was the same. Normally there would’ve been enough wind to split up the peloton but nobody wanted to do that so everybody came quite relaxed on the final circuit. The team did a really good job to keep me up front. It wasn’t that easy but we managed to do that. I didn’t have the best legs for the sprint today but the goal today was to be up there and contend in a sprint with a strong team performance. It worked out really well.”
Clearly the team expected everybody to try their best while knowing Greipel wasn’t at his best level just yet. After the race Greipel acknowledged that Kittel was the deserved winner. He can do better and he knows why, referring to the weather and then to his crash in Portugal.
“I still feel the ribs. I had a really difficult last five, six weeks with my injury. I couldn’t do sprint training like I used to do. I look forward when I can put the injury behind and look at the future now. Therefore I’m trying to be ready for the Giro in a couple of weeks. First I do Paris-Roubaix and then I’m going to see how I can prepare for the Giro.”
Next up for Greipel is Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. One day after the Scheldeprijs there’s already the reconnaissance of the cobbles. Greipel wasn’t worried that the Scheldeprijs would still be in his legs.
“The race was quite relaxed until 40, 30 kilometres to go so that shouldn’t be a problem.” Paris-Roubaix is a race that tends to suit the German rider quite well although he realized that getting the win on the vélodrome in Roubaix was nearly impossible. “For sure there are better riders than me in these races but I have a good spirit in my head for the moment so I’m going to try my best. A lot of things can happen in Roubaix. I hope I have somehow good legs to help the team,” Greipel said.
Regarding the forecasted rain Greipel was in for a joke. “Everybody’s checking out the weather so maybe I’m going to take my mountainbike. I’m all safe then.”
Greipel didn’t yet know whether he would be back in the Scheldeprijs next year though. “Next year is next year. Today is today. Maybe if I get six litres again.”