A long, steady, uphill dash for the line at Benevento on Wednesday netted André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) the fourth Giro d'Italia victory of his career, continuing Greipel's unwritten personal tradition of taking least one stage win in every Grand Tour he has started since 2008.
After his first ever Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España in 2007 - where, although not winning, he still managed two fourth places behind Alessandro Petacchi on stage 11 and Daniele Bennati on stage 17 - Greipel then went on to win in Locarno on stage 17 of the 2008 Giro d'Italia. Since then, the stage victories have kept on coming.
At 33, his total Grand Tour tally of wins now stands at 18 and within that total Greipel's versatility is such that he has won everything from uphill sprints like Benevento - "I won one like that in Saint-Quentin in the  Tour," Greipel recalled - to the much flatter challenges like the Champs Elysées last year in the Tour, and just about everything else in between.
The first of the fast men to start his stage five Giro sprint after a very tricky and technical few corners in the closing kilometres, Greipel said later how he had performed when he raced around the 6.5 kilometre finishing circuit had considerably boosted his self-confidence for going for the win.
"The whole stage was quite hard, actually, there were 3,000 vertical metres of climbing. But we had planned before the stage that we really had to be the whole time in the top ten to stay out of trouble. We knew it was going to be hard, and the team did a really amazing job to keep me up there."
"Then when I crossed the finishing line for the first time, I thought ‘ok, this is not what I expected' and I still had some power in my legs. So I really believed in myself today."
Greipel singled out Lotto-Soudal teammate Jurgen Roelandts for praise after the Classics specialist's standout performance guiding him through some exceptionally tumultuous closing kilometres. Then it was up to the German to finish off the good work. "I tried not to get boxed in, it was quite narrow, somehow I saw a gap I thought I'd give it a try and I'm really happy to have taken the sprint."
Greipel's dominance in the Giro's first full-on bunch sprint in Italy made the press question what had happened in the Giro's bunch sprints in the Netherlands when another German sprinter, Marcel Kittel (Etix-QuickStep), had dominated while Greipel was fifteenth and fourth on stages two and three respectively.
"Marcel is on his own level at the moment, but I still believe in my own abilities as a sprinter," Greipel said. "In the Netherlands it was not so easy to stay in front, QuickStep is a really strong team with a perfect lead-out."
"[But] it's not just about Marcel and me, there are a lot of other good sprinters here…what can I say? I wouldn't say we are especially rivals, I'm not getting any younger, but I will still try my best until I finish my career."
With journalists pressing him to describe himself both as a sprinter Greipel started by saying that he was always proud to win in Italy because this was where his unbroken run of Grand Tour success had started, then he opened up a little on the personal front as to why he was still in the fray at 33. "I think I just love my sport, the way it is, I'm not asking the media to pay attention to my person, but I'm always open for conversations," he argued. "Maybe [that's because] I'm getting older, or it's because I started riding my bike and racing my bike in the difficult years." - the latter a reference to Greipel's upbringing in former East Germany and his days as a young rider following the country's tumultuous reunification.
When one journalist asked Greipel about the similarities and difference between himself and Kittel on the physical front, Greipel concluded with a touch of humour, saying "For sure, Marcel is not ugly but I also don't need to hide behind a wall." And certainly at Benevento, there was no question as to which German sprinter was most in demand from the photographers and press, either.
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