Andre Greipel had no pressure on his shoulders coming into the 4 Jours de Dunkerque, but he delivered anyway with victory on stage 2 in what is his first race back after more than a month out through injury. There was something extra special about it, too, being the German's 150th victory as a professional.
Greipel headed to France for his comeback after breaking his collarbone at Milan-San Remo on March 18, an injury that forced the Lotto Soudal sprinter to miss the spring Classics campaign.
With his sights now set on the Tour de France, he came into the six-stage race with the aim of honing his sprint for July and regaining the rhythm of racing. Winning was no priority, but, after not contesting the sprint on the opening stage, he showed no signs of rustiness on stage 2 on Wednesday.
"I didn’t expect to win already on my second day of racing, but I'm happy I have surprised myself," Greipel said. "Yesterday I decided not to sprint. Today I felt better and also the finish suited me better.
"Of course I was happy when I crossed the finish line. It's always a relief to win, especially since I was out of competition for seven weeks."
There was cause for optimism in terms of the sprint train, as Greipel's teammates played a prominent role in the flat finale.
Jasper De Buyst was last man, and even opened a gap with an acceleration in the final 300 metres. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) then opened up the sprint proper but soon faded, while Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) was the next to go. Greipel was on the Frenchman's wheel and showed a strong turn of speed, as well as guts to squeeze past as Coquard drifted towards the barriers.
"I got a great support from my team. Lawrence Naesen and Enzo Wouters pulled in the bunch to catch the break. With Rémy Mertz, Marcel Sieberg and Jasper De Buyst I could rely on some strong guys to put me in perfect position for the sprint," Greipel explained.
"Jasper started the lead-out with 250 metres to go and that way he forced Bouhanni to go early. I chose the wheel of Bryan Coquard for the sprint. In the end I was lucky that I could still pass him on the left, because he had moved up to the barriers but he didn’t close the door."
Greipel now has 150 career wins, making him the most prolific rider in the current pro peloton and indeed one of the most prolific of all time. Mark Cavendish is four behind on 146 victories.
Four stages remain in Dunkerque, with two clear-cut chances for Greipel to extend his tally, though as he says, his comeback race has already been a success.
"I will take the rest of the week day by day. There are two more sprint stages, but also two harder days. We’ll see what happens. We came here to practice the lead-out for the Tour, we need to get used to the mechanisms in the upcoming weeks. Today was already a success."