Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) rolled back the years to win his first Tour Down Under stage since 2014 on Tuesday to extend his tally to 17 wins in the race. The German, who endured a difficult year on and off the bike in 2017, edged out Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and paid tribute to both his team and his late mother, who sadly passed away last year.
"She's always in my mind, she always will be. She was my biggest supporter, all my career and I know she keeps looking. My whole career is dedicated to her," he affectionately told reporters after finishing up with his podium duties and pulling on the first leader's jersey of this year's race.
"It wasn't the easiest off-season," he said of last year.
"The last two or three months… but I have to look to the future. We have a lot of support from around the family, around the team. It wasn't easy to deal with and still is (not), but the sport helps me to deal with everything."
Lotto came into the race with one less rider after administrative issues surrounding Bjorg Lambrecht's whereabouts application. The Belgian team didn't let that stop them, and they delivered Greipel into the final few hundred meters. The German had to come from behind but profited from mix up in the Mitchelton leadout before overhauling Ewan, and taking his tally of stages wins in the race to 17. After questions over his speed and age, the German sprinter offered the perfect response on his 2018 WorldTour debut and quickly banished any disappointment after missing out on the People's Choice Classic last weekend.
"A win is a win, I'm happy it turned out like that. To start the season with a win is always good for the team, for me. The criterium is one of the hardest races to win and when you do some small mistakes, you cannot win," he said.
"It's nice when you're 35 and everyone tells you, you will get slower. But I don't feel it and I really like to race my bike. Every win is good for the whole team. We calculated that we are probably the oldest team around here but I think we have a lot of quality and experience in our team. You saw that today, and we have the right riders on our team."
Although a third overall title might be too much of a stretch the German is keen on winning at least a further two sprints in this year's race. Given the high-class field on show in 2018, that will be no easy task but one thing is certain. Greipel is back. In fact, he might never have been away.