Greipel starts to build new lead-out train at Arkea-Samsic

First training sessions for German and his new teammates in Calpe

Routines set in pretty deep over the course of eight years, and 36 is a ripe old age to rip them up, but Andre Greipel is starting from scratch after leaving Lotto Soudal for Arkéa-Samsic, and the first building blocks were put in place at the weekend.

The German sprinter, winner of more than 150 races in his career so far, became a legend of the Belgian team since joining in 2011, but has left for the French Pro Continental outfit after a protracted contract dispute.

It means he says goodbye to a number of familiar structures, from the bikes to the coaches and, most importantly, his teammates, having developed a number of close relationships with key lead-out men over the years.

"In our case, we're starting from zero," Greipel told Cyclingnews in Calpe, Spain, at the weekend, where he and his new teammates were training together for the first time.

"I don't know the riders very well yet so I have to get to know them. I spoke already with the coaches and there are potentially really good riders to help me out. Of course, you also need to see how they act in the races, but this is what we are trying to do, to start up from the basics, and to see how everyone is doing his job. I'm really enjoying that challenge, of somehow setting something up."

Greipel met his new teammates for the first time at a gathering and presentation at the end of November. He has since been trying to hone his French, which he has a decent grasp of from his school days but still needs some honing since all team communication will be in French.

The make-up of his sprint train will take better shape by the end of the camp, but provisionally the key men are Robert Wagner, a fellow German who joins from LottoNL-Jumbo, Bram Welten, a Dutch 21-year-old, and Florian Vachon, the 33-year-old Frenchman who has been on the team for nearly a decade.

"For the moment I see those three as having the experience and the power to deliver me," Greipel says.

"Robert has had a knee injury, but he's back on the bike and training well, so in one or two months he's back also in the normal training process. I know Robert in normal health is capable. I know from last year that Bram is a really strong rider and a big guy, and Vachon always did a really good job positioning [Dan] McClay. I think also Clément Russo is a guy who is not afraid of getting himself through the bunch.

"I would see Bram or Robert as my last man. But we don't know yet. Until Robert is back in our training process I really can't say. In the first sessions here it's Bram."

The first proper sprint training session was scheduled for Thursday, but a somewhat unusual full day of rain meant it was pushed back to Friday. The riders have been put through their paces since then, with the coaches finding the longest, quietest stretch of road possible, before putting down distance markers to set it up like a proper sprint finale.

"We go out with 10 riders, then it comes down to kilometre marks," Greipel says. "The last 2 - 2.5 kilometres we start to go with the sprint train. The most logical thing is to deliver your sprinter to in the best possible way without any peaks in the lead-out, and that's what we're trying, that the speed is going higher and higher, in the smoothest way possible, until you deliver your sprinter in the highest speed possible. At the end, I try and do a full sprint. We do that three or four times per session. It's quite intense so three or four is enough.

"At the moment I don't expect anything from anyone. We're starting from the basics. Everyone needs to know what he has to do, and that's the main thing. You need to know how the speed should develop in a lead-out and that's what we're trying to communicate and discuss. This training is also there to start to handle lactic acid."

2019

Greipel will kick off his 2019 campaign at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo stage race in Gabon in the second half of January. It may be a far cry from the WorldTour, but he is just as hungry to get the ball rolling in his new colours. An early win would continue something of a tradition. In seven of the past 10 seasons Greipel has won at the very first time of asking.

"That's my character. Throughout my career, every season I've done I've been competitive throughout," he said. "Of course, I'm always looking to have my peaks but I wouldn't be the same if I say I go to my first race and I don't want to win. This is not going to happen."

The big 'peak' for Greipel will be the Tour de France, though he did point out that a wildcard invitation for the team is not yet confirmed. There's no shortage of candidates but, in Greipel and Warren Barguil, Arkéa-Samsic have a strong case.

The team are more certain they'll be fellow ASO WorldTour races Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix, and Greipel wants to be at his best in both. The latter is of particular interest for the German, who is looking more seriously than ever at the spring classics. In the past, at a Belgian team that lives for those races, he has had something of a free role and has regularly animated the racing, but will take on more of a leadership role at Arkéa.

"I like those kind of races as well. I cannot say I'm going to win but I want to do well, especially in Roubaix. You need a lot of luck but also to be in shape to get a good result and that's what I'm aiming for," he said.

"Let's say Roubaix is the first target I want to be in top shape for. I was seventh two years ago. This year I could not compete because I crashed at Milan-San Remo, but in the Tour stage this year I was eighth. Seventh two years ago was a good result but I know I can do better."

The Tour de France will then be the main target of the summer, as Greipel looks for his 12th win at La Grande Boucle, and a first for his new team. The foundations are currently being laid but by then his new sprint train should be nearing full tilt.

"We have to honest to each other because we are not thinking that we're going to match Quick-Step or something, I but think we can reach some nice results."

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