Ever since 2015, the sight of André Greipel fielding questions at the Giro d'Italia's pre-race press conference for Lotto-Soudal, and after winning at least one stage each time, has been a familiar one. But this year, Greipel is also setting his sights on a different target: the race's pink jersey of overall leader on Friday.
For the first time since the German took part in a Giro d'Italia, back in 2008, the opening stage could well end in a bunch sprint. Furthermore, as the 2016 race's most successful Grand Tour sprinter – last year he took a hat-trick of Giro d'Italia stages, bringing his overall total to six – historically speaking the 34-year-old will be the top favourite to clinch the win in Olbia.
It's true Greipel's approach path to the Giro d'Italia has been very different. The Tour of Turkey, his favourite warm-up race, was postponed until the autumn. Since Paris-Roubaix, where he concluded with an impressive career-best placing of seventh, Greipel has only taken part in one race, the Rund um den Finanzplatz-Frankfurt, which he abandoned. But if he describes his results in the cobbled one-day races – 20th in the Tour of Flanders – as the best Classics campaign of his career, they too were preceded by another successful experiment. After his usual build-up at Paris-Nice, clinching a stage win, Greipel veered away from Italy and Belgium altogether to take part in the Volta a Catalunya before the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix.
So the Giro's top sprinter has come to Sardinia with a solid series of spring results under his belt of already. But he's on the hunt for his first Grand Tour leader's jersey since a two-day spell in the GC's top spot in the Vuelta a España back in 2009.
Starting his 13th Grand Tour, Greipel is never one to overstate his case, and on Wednesday he was as cautious as usual. "For sure I wouldn't say no to another stage win," Greipel said, "but there's a really high level of sprinters here. [Fernando] Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), [Giacomo] Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) but heaps of up-and-coming others as well. I have a lot of experience, but they don't care about that, they want to win too.
"Nothing that you've won in the past helps in situations like this, you always start from zero. And on Friday I want to be in the sprint, the Giro leader's jersey would be a nice one to wear. I wouldn't say no, so I'm looking forward to it."
He will not have an opportunity to reconnoiter the finish of the Giro's first stage, or the sharp little fourth category climb that precedes it and which may sink some of the out-and-out sprinters. Greipel says "for sure it would be good to see it, although if you don't have the legs you would not make it." He is equally unconcerned about how few or how many sprint stages there could be in the Giro d'Italia this year. "You're asking the wrong person," is his laconic response. "I never look at the route book before the stages because I cannot change them anyway."
On Friday afternoon in Sardinia, though, there is no doubt where Greipel wants to be.
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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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