As he took his riders to taste some wine (in moderation) at the end of a training ride at the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre in the Barossa Valley, HTC-Highroad directeur sportif Allan Peiper revealed that recent Australian national championship silver medallist Matt Goss has been designated to fill the shoes of André Greipel in his line-up this year. The German won the Santos Tour Down Under for the American outfit one year ago but is now their biggest rival after moving to Omega Pharma-Lotto.
Some pressure is thus taken off the shoulders of Mark Cavendish, who is seen by many as the star of the event. However, the Manxman has already downplayed any speculation that this race is the first of many in the much-awaited rivalry between him and his former teammate. Asked about Greipel, the winner of 15 stages at the Tour de France answered without batting an eyelid: “There are a lot of great riders here.”
“Cavendish wanted to come to the Tour Down Under”, Peiper told Cyclingnews. “So we lined him up with his lead-out man Mark Renshaw and Matt Goss as well, who won the GP Plouay and a hard stage at the Giro last year. Goss climbs as well as the other sprinters. So we’ll probably play him out for GC. To help him out, we have our team captain Bernhard Eisel and our most reliable team player in Bert Grabsch, and also Hayden Roulston and Danny Pate, who can climb well and possibly support Goss on Willunga Hill. With a team of seven men, it’s difficult to organise a lead-out train but I think we’ve put together a pretty good team.”
Peiper was reassured of his choice when he followed the Australian Open Road Race on Sunday in Ballarat. “I saw Simon Gerrans attacking him on the climb but Matt wasn’t in trouble,” he said of the Australian sprinter, who has already started the season strongly by winning the Jayco Bay Crits in Victoria.
Peiper predicts that the South Australian event will be even more of a sprinters’ race this year. This owes more to the absence of good climbers like Cadel Evans, Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde, who all put the sprinters in trouble last year, than the addition of foreign stars like Cavendish and Tyler Farrar to the race’s long list of sprinters. “The overall classification might come down to bonifications,” Peiper suggested.
When asked if he misses Greipel, the man he led to two overall wins at the Tour Down Under, Peiper frankly answered: “Yes, I do miss Greipel. I’d class him as a friend. His winner’s jersey from last year is in my wardroom. André is really part of my family. But cycling goes on and we are in competition now. However, we don’t focus on our opponents, we focus more on our own strengths.”
The Cavendish-Greipel rivalry aside, the defending champion will be the man to beat in any case. “He looks thin”, Peiper noticed. “Bert Grabsch said he’s a bit worried that Greipel is too thin, but to get over Willunga Hill, you have to be thin. The competition is too high now to come here with an average condition. Two or three years ago, when we already came to the Tour Down Under with a team ready to perform, we heard that it was too early in the season, this and that, but now, many teams and riders have their first peak of the year in January for this race, then they rest and peak again later on.”
Already a pioneer for Australian cycling as a rider, Peiper continues to be so as a directeur sportif.