Last year the often postponed Tour de France debut from Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) didn't deliver the quick stage victory the team hoped for. Eventually they had to wait until stage 10 before the German grabbed the victory in a direct duel with arch rival Mark Cavendish in Carmeaux, and Greipel became one of the few riders to have won a stage in every Grand Tour.
This time around the German strongman once again hopes to win at least one stage.
"I want to win a stage and if it comes early then why not a second. My first goal is on Monday," Greipel referred to stage 2, which leads from Visé to Tournai.
Last Wednesday Greipel checked out the final kilometres of this stage. It will be the first possibility for the pure sprinters to shine and the German rider doesn't want to take anything for granted. Each day team director Mario Aerts will drive ahead of the publicity caravan to scout the course. He'll inform the Lotto Belisol crew in the race about changing weather conditions, new obstacles and the like which all might have an influence on the Belgian team's performance.
When asked about how many times he figured there would be a bunch sprint Greipel said he didn't know. Maybe it wasn't the whole truth but his answer showed that this year Greipel is approaching the race differently.
"Last year I was really nervous. Who isn't in his first Tour de France," Greipel said. There is speculation that sprinters like Cavendish and Greipel might leave the race before the end to focus on the Olympic road race but Greipel stipulated that he wasn't planning to do so.
"I haven't been here too often in the past so now that I'm here I want to make the best of it. Also in the last week I don't want to leave because there's the chance to sprint for the win on the Champs Elysees. It's not the perfect build-up to the Olympic road race though," Greipel said. He added that he'll be the German team leader at the Olympics - "Although it'll be hard to control the race with five men."
In the bunch sprints Greipel will face stiff opposition from world champion Mark Cavendish but also from his compatriot Marcel Kittel as the young sprinter makes his debut in the Tour de France. This year the two German sprinters have duelled with each other in six bunch sprints. Each time one of them came out as winner of the stage/race, with Kittel currently leading the best German sprinter contest by 4 to 2. The same stats show up in the duel between Greipel and Cavendish. A benefit for Greipel's morale will be his impressive stack of seven wins in five weeks and the fact that he won the last bunch sprint with both Cavendish and Kittel during stage 2 of the Ster ZLM Tour two weeks ago.
"There's a lot of fast men here like Cavendish, Matthew Goss, Alessandro Petacchi, Tyler Farrar and Marcel Kittel," Greipel said.
According to him Petacchi is a man to take into account.
"He's always there. He won three stages in the Bayern Rundfahrt and I heard they weren't dead flat at all. He has good support and the team's focus is on the bunch sprints. Marcel Kittel is fast and young. He's stronger than John Degenkolb. There's little difference between all the sprinters. We make the difference with our team, with the positioning.
"Having three men at my side is a good thing. We're a strong enough train," Greipel concluded.