After days on end of battling it through in the gruppetto, a shot at victory in stage 21 on the Champs-Élysées is the reward for the sprinters at the Tour de France. Lotto Soudal's André Greipel will be looking to add his name to the list of winners on the fabled cobbled road for the first time in his career. It’s been a particularly challenging Tour for the sprinters with very few real opportunities for the fast men in the second and third weeks.
Greipel has only been beaten once in a pure sprint at this year’s Tour when Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) bettered him into Fougères on stage 7.
“We are confident, he’s already won three times and he was one time second. I think he is one of the fastest guys and we are confident that he will win on Sunday,” Greipel’s Lotto-Soudal teammate Thomas de Gendt told Cyclingnews. “Of course you have Cavendish and on a finish like that he is really fast but you also have Alexander Kristoff who is really fast and Sagan has also been very strong in this Tour but he has been in a lot of attacks, so maybe he is a little bit more tired than André.”
Greipel has never won on the Champs-Élysées – his best finish to date was second in 2013 – but with three stage wins already, the German has undoubtedly been the sprinter-to-beat at this year’s Tour. A fourth would make it a record for the German, beating his previous best of three in 2012.
The Tour de France is a cruel mistress and the Lotto-Soudal team have also taken a bit of a battering with several, including De Gendt, suffering with serious injury since the opening week. De Gendt crashed and fractured his rib on stage 5 to Amiens – which would eventually be won by Greipel. Despite the injury, De Gendt has been on the attack several times and earned the most combative on stage 13.
Adam Hansen came down the day before the Belgian, when the race took to the cobbles, dislocating his AC joint. Greg Henderson was the worst hit of the Lotto-Soudal riders, he sustained rib injuries in the stage 3 pile up and abandoned ahead of stage 7.
“Henderson is quite an important guy for André in the sprint and with him out we had a few problems but we still managed to win one stage without Henderson and Hansen’s injuries are going ok. Also my injuries are going ok for the moment,” said De Gendt. “He [Hansen] had a lot of problems in the cobbled stage with his shoulder. I was lucky that I broke my rib the day after. If I had the same as he did I don’t think that I would have pulled through. I know he is still fighting so I will do my best to get to the finish.
“It’s only 80 kilometres that we have to race and we still have eight guys. We can use three or four guys to control the race and then the other guys can do the last lap.”
After a very tough Tour de France, De Gendt is looking forward for a chance to put his feet up. “I take the bus home,” De Gendt said. “The team bus leaves directly after the race. I will go as fast as possible to my house and I go enjoy a little bit of my family.”