By Gregor Brown in Locarno, Switzerland
Germany's André Greipel took the biggest win of his career when he took the sprint in stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia, but to get there the Team High Road rider had to suffer through several brutal mountain stages where many a sprinter climbed off.
The win in Locarno's Piazza Grande was a testament to both Greipel's perseverance and the American team's hard work throughout the three-week Giro d'Italia. High Road is one of just five teams to have kept all nine riders in the race, battling crashes, fatigue and the time cuts which have slowly whittled the peloton down.
The mountains nearly deprived Greipel of his chance at glory, when last Sunday, the relentless series of climbs in the Dolomites almost cracked his spirit. "When we did the last hard mountain stage, I nearly stopped three times," confessed the fresh faced Greipel following his win. "I kept going... Yesterday, in the rest day, I felt good and we did some sprints. I knew then that I was not tired."
With a rest day behind him, the 25-year-old had new energy to help control the race on the 146 kilometre march from Sondrio to Locarno. "Today, I felt good in the stage and the team worked well to control the escape."
Cavendish and Greipel were delivered to the line by the likes of German Tony Martin, Australian Adam Hansen and Brit Bradley Wiggins, who were able to control the final ten kilometres perfectly. After reeling in the last man from the day's breakaway, Mikhail Ignatiev of Tinkoff Credit Systems, then spoiling the effort of CSC's Jens Voigt, the team was able to prevent Milram's lead-out man, Alberto Ongarato, from pushing into their train.
Normally, Greipel would be the last man leading out his young team-mate Mark Cavendish, who took two previous stage wins. When the black and white team led through to the final corner where Greipel took the lead, he never relinquished that position and took his first Grand Tour stage.
The German complemented his talented squad for putting in such an impressive performance. "Rabon, Wiggins – World Pursuit Champion – Pinotti, Hansen – Australian Time Trial Champion – and Tony Martin, who is also a strong time trialer and really young. Yeah, of course, I think we are the fastest train here in the Giro and we have showed it the whole time. Today, no one could follow us. Ongarato was impressive, but Cavendish and I are some of the fastest sprinters."
Coming into the last corner at 250 metres to go, it was Greipel leading Cavendish, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Erik Zabel (Team Milram), and the order did not change at the finish line.
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