André Greipel of Team Columbia-HTC is used to winning mass sprints, but his victory in the Vuelta a España's fourth stage on Tuesday came from a group of just five riders. A massive crash two kilometres before the finish line took down much of the peloton, leaving only a handful of riders including Greipel and two of his own teammates to fight it out.
"I heard a loud noise, turned around and saw only Wouter Weylandt on my rear wheel," Greipel told Cyclingnews on Wednesday morning. "I could only think how lucky I was [to have escaped the crash.]"
He got away with teammates Marcel Sieberg and Bert Grabsch and three Quick Step riders. Grabsch and Sieberg set up the sprint for Greipel, who finished several bike lengths ahead of Weylandt. The other two Columbia riders finished third and fourth, respectively.
Had World time trial champion Grabsch won the stage, he would have taken over the leader's gold jersey on time bonuses. He was in 13th place, 19 seconds down going into the stage. The 20 second bonus awarded to the stage victor would have put him one second ahead of leader Fabian Cancellara, who retained the leader's gold jersey after race commissares neutralised the time gaps opened as a result of the crash.
"Looking back, we should have thought about taking the jersey for Bert," Greipel admitted. "He would have deserved it!"
Grabsch has now moved up to third place, 11 seconds down, with Greipel right behind him in fourth, on the same time.
Some observers have dismissed the stage results because of the circumstances, but the 27-year-old was happy with his victory. "I had imagined my first Vuelta stage win would come under other circumstances," he said. "But it was still a good feeling. I thought immediately about the riders who crashed and hoped that they weren't injured."
Greipel has faced his own difficulties this season. He was out for four months in the Spring as he recovered from shoulder surgery, required after a crash at the Tour Down Under. Despite the extended period out of competition he has still claimed 16 wins; more than anyone else in the peloton except teammate Mark Cavendish.
His winning streak came to an end in the Tour de Pologne, where he was unable to win a sprint until the final stage. The bad luck had continued in the first sprint stages of the Vuelta, until his victory yesterday in Liége.
"In a sprint, the difference between winning and losing can be fractions of a second," he said. "The team continues to support me and when the position is good, I will have the chance for another stage win."
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