The 32-year-old sprinter, with victories in all three Grand Tours to his name, says he has no idea of how many flat stages there are in the race that he can target, “because I never read the route book. You never can change the parcours. All you need is good condition. I know Saturday is a team time trial, Sunday is flat and then we will see.”
Greipel, the highest profile sprinter in the Giro this year, is not trotting this line out as a way of having to avoid journalists’ questions about how many stages he thinks will end in a bunch sprint – and therefore should think about winning. In fact, the Lotto-Soudal rider turns a little pale when asked what he thinks of “the Alpine stage with 5,000 metres of vertical climbing on stage four,” only relaxing when it’s pointed out this is a joke.
For Greipel, with or without a route book in his suitcase, this Giro, where he is co-leader with Jurgen Van Den Broeck, is something of a novelty. Increasingly focused on the Tour de France, he has never ridden the Giro d’Italia for his current employer, his last participation coming with HTC in 2010, when he abandoned on stage 19 to Aprica, the day after he won the second stage of his career in the Italian Grand Tour.
He will also be racing with a somewhat different line-up for the sprints, with no Jürgen Roelandts or Marcel Sieberg, both of whom have been key parts of Greipel’s leadout-train in the Tour. “Greg Henderson will be my last man, as always, and then I think Adam Hansen will be the next,” Greipel says. “But we will decide it on the day. With some of our usual riders not here, we’ll have to rely on our own experience more to get in the right position in the sprints.”
“I think we have a balance, a group around Greipel, another round Jurgen, and let’s be honest, a guy like Hansen or Lars [Bak] can do both,” says Lotto-Soudal manager Marc Sergeant, “Also for the team time trial, a top ten can be possible, instead of seventeenth like in Romandie, which was not good.”
As for Lotto-Soudal having to take responsibility for the race as the top sprinter’s squad, Sergeant says “Let’s hope… not. I hope for a good result on Saturday, but Sky have [Elia] Viviani, there’s [Tom] Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step), two of the pink jersey contenders’ teams have a guy for a field sprint as well. You already get some kind of collaboration for a sprint. We have a team, but we will look for help. Lampre, they have [Sacha] Modolo…Why did they bring him here? Because they want a sprint.”
“We don’t have the usual readout squad here, so it’s not just about us, it’s about the other sprinters here,” adds Greipel. “I will say, at the end, when it comes down to the sprint, I will have maybe three guys to support me, but not the same leadout as in the Tour.”
For Lotto-Soudal, the switch for Greipel to the Giro d’Italia from other races was a logical one. “With André we decided to go more for quality than quantity of victories this year,” says Sergeant, “so we’ve been targeting the WorldTour races this season:”
“I wanted to go to the Giro to keep myself a bit motivated, also because it’s a nice race. Nothing against the Tour of Belgium, but I’ve done it four years in a row and I need something else to motivate myself,” Greipel says.
The goal in Italy will be to get a stage win and then take it from there. “It’s nice to get a stage win as early as possible,” he says. “I also wouldn’t say no to a second one, but you have to be realistic.”
Although the Tour de France is Greipel’s biggest target for the season, a stint in the red points jersey at the Giro would dispel any thoughts of considering leaving the race early. “For sure if I have the jersey on my back, I will never stop.”
As for the pink jersey wearer in Milan, Greipel points at two leading candidates: “I think it will be between Porte and Contador, although I hope Jurgen will be up there.”
German cycling has had a huge amount of success in recent months, and even if, as Greipel points out, it’s not totally new, “it’s nice to see that the media are paying attention to it.” Should Greipel take a win – or more – in Italy, the odds are it will not go un-noticed back home either.