André Greipel and Nils Politt are separated by 12 years in age, but by just a few kilometres in distance, and so they trained together in Hürth, near Cologne even before the younger man had joined the professional ranks, well before he won stage 12 of the 2021 Tour de France.
On the road to Nîmes on Thursday, Greipel and Politt found themselves side by side once again, this time in the 13-man breakaway that decided stage 12 of the Tour de France. A decade or so ago, Greipel used to pass on spare winter training kit to his young neighbour. Now, in the white heat of July, the Israel Start-Up Nation rider took it upon himself to pass on some advice to his friend from Bora-Hansgrohe.
"He wanted to attack from earlier and I said, 'Keep calm, you are anyway one of the strongest here and nobody will be close to you,'" Greipel smiled when he paused in the mixed zone on Avenue Allende a couple of minutes after Politt had soloed to stage victory. "I guess the strongest of the breakaway won today, and he really deserved that one."
With just a brace of top 10 finishes to show from bunch sprints on this Tour, Greipel tried to find another way to win on Thursday, joining the breakaway that formed after a rapid, wind-buffeted start to the day's racing. He knew that the unwieldy group would begin to fragment in the final hour and he suspected, too, that few riders would be willing to bring a sprinter of his renown to the line.
"It was clear to me that today would be quite tough due to the wind at the beginning, so I was already speculating on being in the break," said Greipel.
"I spoke to Nils before the finale to say I wasn't going to close him down. Not that I didn't want to go for the win myself, but it was quite clear that nobody was going to ride to the line with me. So I told Nils I wouldn't follow him because that would have neutralised the move."
Politt duly punched clear with Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) with 40km remaining and then soloed away from his companions in the finale to claim the spoils.
"André is a big friend, and I also asked him about tactics. He knew what I wanted to do, and I said I was one of the strongest and I should try something," Politt said. "It was nice to have him there when I won the stage."
Greipel, for his part, had to settle for sixth on the stage, 2:06 down, but any disappointment on missing out was tempered by the sight of his training partner on the podium. Politt and Greipel have in recent years formed a trio with Rick Zabel, dubbing themselves the 'Trainingstiere' or 'Training Animals,' a nod to their respective nicknames: Greipel being the 'Gorilla,' Zabel the 'Lion' and Politt the 'Giraffe.'
"He's a really good friend, I saw him growing up," Greipel said. "It's really emotional when your training colleague wins his first stage of the Tour de France.
"I still remember how it felt when I won my first Grand Tour stage and you can only be happy for a guy like him. He's always motivated, he always gives his best for his training colleagues and for himself as well."
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