What looked like the beginning of a bad break-up between André Greipel and Lotto Soudal during contract negotiations at the Tour de France has settled into mutually respectful goodbyes as the German sprinter announced that he had inked a two-year term with French Professional Continental team Fortuneo-Samsic.
The new deal puts an end to Greipel's near eight-year relationship with Lotto Soudal, and its various incarnations as Omega Pharma Lotto and Lotto Belisol, since joining the outfit at the beginning of 2011.
"I think we can describe our many years of collaboration in a simple way: Omega Pharma Lotto, Lotto Belisol and Lotto Soudal successively owe a great deal to André Greipel, just as André owes a lot to us," Lotto Soudal manager Marc Sergeant said in a statement on Thursday.
"I've never had any similar bond with a rider like the one I had with André. A collaboration that was marked by dialogue, patience, trust, and, above all, respect. The many achievements are a logical result of this collaboration."
Grepiel joined the team after five seasons with T-Mobile and HTC-HighRoad, where he became recognised as one of the most successful sprinters in the world. Since joining the Lotto team, he has secured 93 victories (of his 153 career wins). His palmares includes 11 stage wins at the Tour de France, seven at the Giro d'Italia, four at the Vuelta a España, among many other victories, in what has been an illustrious career that he intends to continue.
"Everyone in this team - each rider and staff member - knew André as a gentleman," said Sergeant. "No emotional tweet directed to Sagan or Démare affects that perception. André was awed by each newcomer - young or famed. He gained respect for his personality, and of course for his achievements, not for empty words. He made a big evolution since 2011; at the beginning he was mainly a sprinter, but through the years he evolved into a real leader. He called us his family, and he meant it.
"The choice to end this chapter is obviously a tough one. As a team you are constantly reflecting upon the choices you have to make to secure the best possible future. In the final stage of the negotiations, it became clear that there would be no further collaboration possible. Nonetheless, the mutual respect continues, undoubtedly."
Greipel says thank you and goodbye
Greipel, 36, has given no signal of slowing down. He did not win a stage at the Tour de France this year and left the race early after missing the time cut in the Alps, but he has won six races earlier this season.
His contract with Lotto Soudal was set to expire at the end of this season and he was looking for another two-year term that would provide more job security. In June, during the Tour de Suisse, Greipel told Cyclingnews that he was offered a two-year deal with Lotto Soudal but that he wasn't happy with the terms, calling them "unfair". Team manager Paul De Geyter, however, said that no offer had been made, causing some confusion.
During the Tour de France, the team announced that the collaboration between Lotto Soudal and Andre Greipel had come to an end.
Professional Continental team Fortuneo-Samsic's deal with Greipel is the biggest since they signed Warren Barguil last year. It might appear something of a downgrade for Greipel, but he was happy with the contract terms and insisted that he is still hunting future victories and new challenges.
Despite the somewhat rocky ending to his seven-and-a-half years with Lotto Soudal, Greipel expressed warm gratitude for the team's support and thanked them for the many good experiences he's had with his teammates, highlighting his two victories on the Champs-Élysées at the Tour de France - in 2015 and 2016 - as the "icing on the cake".
"At the end of 2011, I transferred from HTC, since there were many strong riders in the team and I was looking for a team in which I could go for stage victories myself. Besides the fact that I already knew guys like Philippe Gilbert and Jürgen Roelandts, a couple of other riders of HTC made the transition as well. In the first year at Omega Pharma-Lotto, Gilbert had his magical year, one of many consecutive successes, and our paths crossed regularly. Nevertheless, I was very happy to, among others, ride my first Tour and to take my first stage win: a true salvation," Greipel said in the Lotto Soudal statement.
"Greg Henderson joined the team in 2012 and turned out to be the missing link to establish the world's best lead-out, together with Marcel Sieberg and Jürgen Roelandts; the red train. The establishment of this project was a true challenge, but also a big success. I could sum up many highlights during my time at the team, but the trust from the riders in each other and of the team in the riders makes it one big highlight. You can put it all on paper, but you also have to execute it on the road, during the many races.
"I definitely see the two victories on the Champs Elysées in 2015 and 2016 as the icing on the cake for all of the team's efforts. Inevitably, during the past 8 years, I've had some difficult moments, but never encountered any pressure of the team nor felt the need to perform. Together, we have created an environment, which made it possible to perform - an entirely different approach. I'm looking forward to racing with everyone of the team until the end of this season.
"To all the staff members and riders who were part of all the special moments together: thank you!"