By Greg Johnson in Adelaide, Australia
Team High Road is delighted with the opening to its season at the Tour Down Under, with German sprinter Andre Greipel claiming four stage victories, the overall classification and subsequently the ProTour lead at the series opening Tour Down Under. After taking a surprise victory in the pre-tour Down Under Classic last Sunday evening, Greipel stormed to his first ProTour stage win on Wednesday, and then added another three stage wins and an overall ProTour round win to his palmares by week's end with the help of his team-mates.
The win means that Greipel will wear the white ProTour leader's jersey in the next round in Belgium in April. "It's more than I can say," said a stumped team director Alan Peiper. "Leader in the ProTour, first race [victory], Tour of Flanders first car, it can't be any better."
The German outfit, owned by American businessman Bob Stapleton, is hopeful its early season success will not only continue, but will also lead to the prompt signing of a new title sponsor. The outfit lost its title sponsor, T-Mobile, at the end of 2007 after the German telecommunications company chose to withdraw its involvement with the sport.
"I don't know [what impact the victories will have], those decisions aren't made over night," said Peiper. "But we won five stages in seven days and first ProTour stage race of the year, ProTour lead, we've got a presentation in a couple of weeks in California. It's all good."
Greipel added that he believes victory is the best way for the squad to prove its worth to potential new sponsors. "Yeah, it's the best way, it's the best answer to win races," he said. "I hope we find a sponsor soon."
Peiper's response to his men's success in Australia was reflected in the comments of an equally enthused Stapleton. "The team is blessed with extraordinary young talent," he said. "It's rewarding to see them grow, improve and taste success based on intense focus, teamwork and exceptional effort. Our young riders were exceptional last year and have the potential to do more this season."
While Greipel admitted he never thought overall victory possible, he was nonetheless delighted over his successful week in Australia. "My sport director told me before the race, ‘you don't have to think about the jersey, just try to do your own sprint and win'," said Greipel of the final day. "I'm really proud of it, my team is proud of me, everyone trusted me, I'm happy to be in Australia for the first time and win my first ProTour race."
Greipel upset over first sprint
While Sunday's final Tour Down Under stage saw Germany's Andre Greipel (Team High Road) cap-off a successful week in a stylish fashion, the 25 year-old was upset over the day's first sprint. With just seven seconds separating Greipel and Allan Davis (UniSA-Australian National Team), the 16 seconds of time bonuses on offer during the final stage were crucial to the event's outcome.
Greipel claimed that, despite agreeing to race fair, one of Davis' UniSA-Australian National Team team-mates unfairly blocked him in the day's first sprint, which was won by Davis. The German rider refused to name which rider he was referring to, however race footage shows that the third party was last year's Tour Down Under runner-up Karl Menzies.
"I was disappointed about the team member of Alan Davis, it was not fair," claimed Greipel. "We said before the race we wanted to have a fair race and that first sprint was not fair. After we decided to do our own lead-outs and this was the best chance to win the Tour Down Under.
"He did a lead out for Allan and he saw me on the back wheel and I wanted to sprint over to the finish line," explained Greipel. "He saw me and rolled before my bike and yeah, it was not fair."
Greipel was upset with the incident and had words with Davis before the next sprint, where a well organized Team High Road saw Greipel take out the bonus. Davis said after the event that he wasn't aware of any un-sportsmanlike behaviour by his team-mates.
"I didn't know what he was on about – I sprinted to my straight line and everything," said Davis. "I don't know what happened actually, so I just worried about the next sprint – didn't take in too much – I think he did too, he came out and did it on the next sprint."
While the outcome of the first sprint had little bearing on the general classification, with Greipel sealing his overall win by winning the 10 second stage win bonus, race commissaires evaluated the footage after the race. The event's chief commissaries told Cyclingnews after the race that he was perfectly happy with the first sprint and that no action could or would be taken – clearing Menzies of any wrongdoing.