Just like in a casino, winning in a bunch sprint can contain elements of luck as well as skill, and for André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), losing to Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step Floors) on stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia was partly a question of placing all of his chips on the wrong square.
It's no secret that the reactions of sprinters who are defeated vary wildly. Some refuse to talk to media at all and chew over their defeat on their team bus, others harangue their rivals or lead-out men. But in Greipel's case at Messina, minutes after finishing fourth to Gaviria, he recognised honestly that his team and rivals had done their jobs perfectly, and he just chose poorly.
"It was a bit of a gamble with the headwind," the Lotto-Soudal sprinter told Cyclingnews as he warmed down. "You have to be on the right wheel and in the right slipstream, which I wasn't."
Greipel agreed the sprint had been chaotic but recognised that he had been swamped by his rivals when they came to the front, and then to cap it all off, he had started his sprint from too far out. Lotto Soudal had worked hard in the closing kilometres of the stage as a sprint became all but inevitable, and as Greipel said, "The team had done a really great job to keep me up in front, I had a little problem in the U-turn in the city, so I lost some positions there.
"Then there was a full headwind in the last 1.5 kilometres, we tried to use the momentum, but Quick Step came up really fast on the left-hand side, and I lost a few positions there."
"So when I started my sprint, I was 12th or 15th back, I just had to go with 300 metres to go, and my legs left me in the last 50 metres."
Greipel denied that he might be feeling the knock-on effects of an ascent of Mount Etna the day before, saying, "It's the same for everybody. A sprint is a sprint."
The veteran German sprinter tipped his hat to Gaviria, whom he said "deserved to win. He was the strongest." Greipel had already lost the pink jersey to the Colombian, 12 years his junior, on Sunday and two days later the ciclamino jersey of points leader has now passed on from the German to Gaviria as well.
After taking Saturday's first bunch sprint of the Giro d'Italia, but losing the second, Greipel is looking forward to his next opportunity in two days time at Alberobello. "I'll be fighting for that one," Greipel promised, and for the German at least, his next gamble on the betting table of a bunch sprint will hopefully have a very different result.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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