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André Greipel (HTC-Columbia)
Speculation grows that German could provide Tour lead-out for Cavendish
Some of cycling’s biggest names have commended Germany’s André Greipel (HTC-Columbia) after he took his second overall Tour Down Under title at the weekend. Greipel won three of the race’s six stages to become the event’s second double victor in its 12 year history, yet, despite the latest confirmation of his position as one of the sport's top sprinters, HTC-Columbia say he is prepared to work in a lead-out role for Manxman Mark Cavendish at this year’s Tour de France.
Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen (Katusha) spoke highly of the Vuelta a España stage winner. While McEwen, who is recovering from injury, believes Greipel can be beaten he is clearly impressed by the huge German’s strength.
"He’s very, very good," said McEwen. "He’s got a super strong team to take him into the sprint and when it comes to the sprint itself he’s going really, really well – he’s just so strong. Every January he comes down here in very, very good form.
"You see guys like him and Greg Henderson, they came out of the Vuelta at the end of last season and that sort of sets you up for a very good off-season and to start the [new] season strong again," said McEwen prior to the final stage. "They’re the only two that have won in sprints so far."
Even before Greipel’s success at the ProTour opener, HTC-Columbia had raised the prospect of him leading out Cavendish at the Tour de France. The pair would need to work together in smaller races together before a decision is made and much could hinge on the recovery of Australia’s Mark Renshaw from Epstein-Barr virus.
"You know, I think we’re staying open on that," said HTC-Columbia team owner Bob Stapleton. "André is a selfless teammate, he’s willing to do that, which I think is remarkable. I think it would strike fear in the heart of a lot of teams to think of those guys riding together in the Tour. We should certainly consider it.
"We’ll probably put them in some races together to see how they perform," he added. "If you remember back Renshaw and Cav weren’t an immediate hit, they didn’t have immediate success, it took a few races to learn how to work together."
Seven time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) was another that spoke highly of the sprinter after his performance last week. "Greipel, as I think we can all see, is unbeatable right now," said Armstrong.
Saxo Bank’s Stuart O’Grady, the only other rider to have won the Tour Down Under on two occasions, suggested anyone wondering how Greipel is so dominant should take a look at the considerable bulk of his legs. RadioShack director Johan Bruyneel also offered a simple assessment of the sprinter’s form.
"Grepiel was on another level to anyone else," said the Belgian.
Bruyneel’s comments were echoed by Team Sky’s David Brailsford. The British squad was the only team to beat Greipel in flat sprints, with Greg Henderson winning the pre-race criterium and Chris Sutton the race’s final city circuit stage.
"Greipel is up there with anybody as a sprinter," said Brailsford.
Greipel claimed 20 victories in 2009 despite sitting out four months of the season after a crash at last year’s Tour Down Under.