The thunderous cry of relief as Andre Greipel crossed the line was such that it reverberated even above the tumult of a bunch finish, but the German had carefully put a lid back on his emotions by the time he spoke with reporters after his maiden Tour de France stage win in Carmaux.
After four fractious seasons of playing Salieri to Mark Cavendish's Mozart at the Highroad team, there could surely have been no sweeter victory for Greipel than to outgun his former stable-mate for the very first time in a sprint shoot-out on the biggest stage of all.
Yet when asked if his triumph had been an exercise in revenge after those years of uneasy coexistence, Greipel seemed in little mood to fan the flames of that bitter rivalry. The release of years of disappointment and frustration in his cry as he crossed the line had already said all that needed to be said.
"It was always hard for the sport directors to make a decision to take me or Cavendish to this race, he is one of the greatest sprinters on earth," Greipel said diplomatically, his features scarcely breaking into a smile.
Frustrated by life in Cavendish's shadow, Greipel left for Omega Pharma-Lotto at the end of 2010, and the 28-year-old explained that the opportunity to make a belated Tour de France debut was the biggest attraction in making the move.
"I'm not getting younger and that's why I made the decision to change," Greipel said. "I'm really happy to have found a team that supports me in this way. I'm really happy that they gave me this opportunity to take part in the race and to win this stage."
Reflections on Chateauroux
Greipel's first head-to-head battle with Cavendish at the Tour was in Chateauroux on Friday. On that occasion, the German had to make do with third place after his long-distance sprint wilted in the closing metres. By contrast, in Carmaux, Greipel timed his effort perfectly during the sinuous final kilometre to seal the biggest win of his career ahead of Cavendish.
"We had a chat after the Chateauroux stage," Greipel said of Cavendish. "He said big respect for my sprint. I'm not a puppet where you push a button and 300 metres from the line I go and win every time. I couldn't hold it that day. With 50 metres to go I didn't have the legs."
After digesting the lessons of that defeat in the wide boulevard sprint at Chateauroux, Greipel was a different animal in the technical run-in on Tuesday.
"The Chateauroux stage was our first time really sprinting against each other," he said. "There I lost. But I had confidence and team had confidence."
While Greipel's power struggle with Cavendish at Highroad has been well documented, the German appeared to be facing fresh internal battles at Omega Pharma-Lotto during the opening week of the Tour. Though the designated sprinter, Greipel was left seething by his team's support for Philippe Gilbert in the bunch gallop on stage five, and voiced his frustration at the finish. It seems victory in Carmaux had also healed those wounds.
"I think there was a lot of adrenaline in my body [after stage five]," Greipel admitted. "When I saw the sprint again afterwards, I saw that Gilbert had speed left, so it was normal that he did sprint. I was not right."
Gilbert was on the offensive in the finale of Tuesday's stage, but after his bold rally over of the top of the Côte de Mirandol-Bourgnounac, the Belgian champion did his bit to help Greipel negotiate the sprint.
"Philippe Gilbert is maybe the best rider in the bunch at the moment," Greipel said. "He is an all-rounder and he has the green jersey, and that's our objective this year. We have the chance to do this, and I hope we can contest the green jersey."
"I'm also really happy for the team that they supported me like they did today. First of all, just by being part of the selection for the Tour de France and then especially today by trying to help me win the stage."
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