André Greipel has discovered something new this year: he doesn't get claustrophobic in caves. But when it comes to racing, the German sprinter confirms that he will be doing exactly the same start to his year as usual, at the Tour Down Under. Further down the line, too, the Tour de France will once more be his big target of the season.
Greipel's discovery about caves came during a Lotto-Belisol team building exercise currently under way in the Belgian Ardennes, where the 31-year-old from Rostock spent nearly an hour in a very dark and cramped hole in the ground.
There's no denying that Greipel shone brightly in 2013, though: 13 wins, including the German national championships title, a fifth stage of the Tour de France, three wins in the Tour Down Under and the Paris-Brussels Classic made last year a very successful one. Hence his unwillingness, perhaps, to alter his early season program at least.
"It's good, we are all here as a team and in a different scenario to the usual ones," Greipel told Cyclingnews about the team building camp, which started on Monday. "I like doing the climbing we do here or whatever, and I've never been in a cave before and now I know it doesn't make me claustrophobic, as there wasn't so much space inside.
"But the important thing about these camps is that we are here to get to know each other away from racing."
Greipel is not worried, yet, about whether his base condition is the same, better or worse than at this time last year. "I don't care about that yet, I'm just trying to do some good training on the bike and good workouts, and that’s as far as it goes."
The Tour Down Under, he said, has always worked for him as his first stage race of the year - and Greipel not only holds the record for stage wins there, with 14 wins, but also has two outright victories, in 2008 and 2010. Geographically, too, it makes sense to head to Adelaide, he reasoned. Lotto-Belisol will be training in Argentina this January, "so I said, 'why not head on to Australia from there?'"
"For me, it's also quite important to get that early win and with a very similar team to last year, we'll still be focused on the sprints in Australia."
The Tour de France is not far from his thoughts, although he hasn't looked at the route yet. "There are only 20 guys that can win a stage there each year, so to be one of them is always important," said Greipel, who took a sprint into Montpellier last year.
Although Lotto-Belisol's core group of riders around Greipel will not change too much in 2014 compared to this year – just 10 riders are leaving – Greipel believes that "there are a lot of changes, for example Maxime Monfort and Tony Gallopin, who won the Clásica San Sebastian are both coming in [from RadioShack – ed.]"
He already knows Monfort from his time when they both rode for HTC. "He always knows what he can do, and he's always someone you can trust in," Greipel said.
The line-up in Greipel's sprint train will be one of the areas that alters the least. "There was no reason to change it," Greipel said. "We just can push ourselves to higher goals and everybody is fighting for that and trying their best in the training to do that. I'm pleased with that."
As for himself, Greipel expects the intensity of the challenges he will face will be unchanged in the bunch gallops in 2014, despite the steadily improving results produced by comparatively new sprinters on the block like Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. "You’re always going to get young guys coming through," he said guardedly.
Asked what impresses him most about Kittel, for example, Greipel said, "I wouldn't say 'impress' is the right word, but something I like about him a lot is that he is always correct in the way he sprints."
As he moves towards becoming a veteran member of the peloton, Greipel brushes aside any credit for blazing a trail for modern German sprinting.
"This in an international sport and at the end, I don't care which nationality my rivals are: German, Australian, American, British.... And if personally I can be consistent, go on winning from January through to September, that's my big goal of the season."