It wasn't until stage 18 that sprinter Andre Greipel got a Giro d'Italia stage win, which was also his 12th victory of the year. The tenacious, German sprinter said that his HTC-Columbia team had been instrumental in keeping him in the race while many other sprinters like Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) were pulling out.
"This is a good end of the Giro for me," Greipel said after the stage. "I've had to wait for a long time. Today was the last chance for a bunch sprint finish. We took the responsibility of chasing the breakaway down with Sky. At the end [Marcel] Sieberg and [Frantisek] Rabon kept me in the front and got me a good position for the sprint.
"We experienced different weather conditions today with sun, rain and wind, but the course had wide roads, with no dangerous corners, so it went well."
Following his four stage wins at the Presidential Tour of Turkey in April, Greipel looked like the best sprinter on the roster for the Giro d'Italia, but he lost some battles against Farrar and Wouter Weylandt at the beginning.
"I hadn't won so far simply because I'm not a machine but a human being," he said. "It happens that everyone gets sick at some point. I got sick two days before the Giro. I couldn't eat or drink and I lost three kilos. That's why I couldn't do well in the first stages."
"There were breakaways that we couldn't chase and stages with a lot of corners like in Bitonto, where Farrar won for the second time but the whole team kept supporting me: the soigneurs, the mechanics, the directeurs sportifs and my colleagues. I'm proud of my team."
Greipel didn't mention the tensions within his HTC-Columbia squad, in which he was the number one sprinter although his lead-out man Matt Goss was in a better form than him in the south of Italy. The Tasmanian was smart enough to play his own chances in the final 400 metres of stage 9 to Cava de' Tirreni. It gave the American team their only stage win until Greipel brought some logic back in the results.
Greipel refused to enter into any debate about his rivalry with Mark Cavendish. "I do every race good for the team," he said literally in English. "I'm not looking to someone else. At every race, I receive a great support from the team."
When asked about his future, the fast man from Rostock said, "I would like to stay. I'm always open to stay with HTC-Columbia." However, he's probably the most in demand cyclist on the market these days as teams like Omega Pharma-Lotto are desperately looking for a sprinter, and Greipel is the most successful of them.
Changing teams in the future may depend on whether he gets a start at the Tour de France or not this year. Earlier in the season, HTC-Columbia's manager Bob Stapleton considered lining up both Cavendish and Greipel to compensate the departure of some important members of last year's train including George Hincapie. "If the team wants me to go, then I will go," Greipel said. "The Tour de France is always a goal for riders, and I have never done it. It's a goal I want to reach once, if not this year, I'd like it to be next year."
Greipel was interested to learn that three of the four past winners of Giro d'Italia stages that ended in Brescia went on to become World Champion the same year: Gianni Bugno in 1991, Mario Cipollini in 2002 and Paolo Bettini in 2006. Only Biagio Conte, who benefited from the disqualification of Angel Vicioso in 2000, didn't get the rainbow jersey after winning in Brescia.
Greipel would be extremely happy to become World Champion in Geelong, Australia, in October, especially if he is omitted from the Tour de France start list.