One week out from the 2016 Tour de France, Andre Greipel fired a warning shot to his sprint rivals with a dominant performance in the German national championships to secure a third title. The Lotto Soudal rider beat Giant-Alpecin neo-pro Max Walscheid and rival Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step) to add to his wins from 2013 and 2014.
The 33-year-old has been one the top sprinters in 2016 with three Giro d'Italia stage wins to go with stages at the Tour of Luxembourg and Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey, and the one-day races Trofeo Felanitx and Trofeo Playa de Palma.
While the flat Erfurt course was suited to the sprinters and provided an ideal hit out for the fast men before Saturday's opening stage of the Tour, which is likely to conclude with a bunch gallop, Greipel explained he and teammate Marcel Sieberg were keen to shake up the race.
"Despite the nature of the course you can never be sure it will end with a sprint, because the big teams could have other tactics. Sibi and I had decided to race attentively and join every big breakaway. And we succeeded in doing that. With 45 kilometres to go for example, we were part of a break, but Giant-Alpecin didn't have a rider in that group and that's why we didn't stand a chance," Greipel said. "Sibi made sure I was positioned perfectly for the sprint. John Degenkolb launched the sprint for his teammate Walscheid, I remained on his wheel. I started sprinting with two hundred metres to go and nobody could pass me. I've seen the images and the gap was rather big."
Greipel has won at least one stage in his last ten grand tours and will look to continue his run at the Tour, 12-months on from winning four stages at La Grande Boucle.
"Of course I am happy that I've become national champion for the third time ever. When it's this type of course, it's always a goal for me. I am proud to wear the jersey for a year and I am looking forward to show it in the Tour. This victory, my eighth of the season, is good for the confidence," added Greipel.
For Gallopin, it was the second year in a row that he ended up with a silver medal around his neck on the podium. Gallopin explained the update on teammate Stig Broeckx's condition inspired him to make the race but ultimately fell short with FDJ's Arthur Vichot claiming the win
"I am very disappointed. Last year I was second as well, but the circumstances were different," said Gallopin. "It was a very hectic sprint and another type of course, now it was perfect for me with two hills on the course. It's not easy without a teammate. In the last lap I took off from a front group of fifteen together with two others. It really was a goal of mine to win here and it's painful when you don't achieve such a goal. On the other hand, because all what has happened to Stig, I can put it in the right context. It is a very difficult time: aiming for results on the one hand and coping with all the emotions on the other hand.
"The good news after today is that my condition is fine. I rode a good time trial on Thursday, I got third. That was already a good sign and my performance today has confirmed that. Although losing the race hurts. But there will be new goals quite soon, we're leaving for the Tour on Tuesday,"
Wellens explained that his thoughts were occupied with the condition of his teammate and up against Philippe Gilbert in the sprint, he couldn't match the strength of the BMC rider.
"It was a really difficult weekend for the team. Yesterday evening we got more info about the condition of Stig and that was really emotional. It is difficult to cope with it, but today we fought for him," said Wellens.
"As a team we were well represented in the front group, but unfortunately someone was stronger. I was realistic, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to drop Gilbert and he is strong at the finish. I tried to ride away from him, but he remained on my wheel. I began the sprint in second position, but couldn’t get passed Gilbert as he was too strong. "