Lotto Soudal have endured a difficult spring, failing to win a race since Paris-Nice and misfiring time and time again in the Classics on home roads in Belgium. Fortunately, they have always been able to count on André Greipel to turn things around, and the German sprinter did it again at the Giro d'Italia with a perfectly executed sprint finish in Tortolì.
Greipel has now won 22 Grand Tour stages. This one also gave him the Giro d'Italia pink leader's jersey for the first time and ended Lotto Soudal's dire spring. It was a huge moment for the quiet German and the other Lotto Soudal riders, who celebrated loudly past the packed finish line.
"When you ride the Classics as a Belgian team you always try to be successful but others were prepared too. We fought for it and for sure results didn't come as expected. That's why it was really important to be successful in the Giro. I think we've come to a turning point for our team," Greipel explained, praising his teammates several times and showing true leadership.
"In every race and every stage we try the maximum. We're under pressure throughout the season but everyone is professional and gives their best. That's what we did today."
Greipel wears race number 100 in this 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia. He was honoured to finally pull on the pink jersey. He kissed the pink jersey with real emotion on the podium.
"There's not much to say, it's a childhood dream to wear a jersey like this. It can't be better than this. I'm honoured to have this jersey," he said.
"We tried last year but it didn't workout so this year was another chance. We tried yesterday but in the hectic finale it wasn't easy to stay together. This time it did and I'm happy to have reached our first goal. Now we'll enjoy tomorrow's stage with jersey."
Greipel made a point of dedicating his win and the pink jersey to his Lotto Soudal teammates and also his mother who is not in great health.
"It's dedicated to my mother, to the lot of people who support me and the team too. She's in difficult times at the moment but she's a fighter and my family are fighters," Greipel said, his voice becoming emotional, showing he is human as well one of the world's best sprinters.
An unexpected sprint
The long stage south from Olbia to Tortolì started under grey skies with many expecting a long series of attacks to get in the early break and then a shake out on the climb of Genna Silana. Instead the stage was slow and steady until Bahrain-Merida lit it up on the twisting descent. Greipel sat carefully in the peloton, protected by his teammates until the fast finish.
"I didn't honestly believe in a sprint today," he admitted.
"We expected more attacks in beginning. I think the head wind played in our favour, nobody tried something on the last climb either and that could for sure have exploded the race."
Greipel accepted that the two sprints of this year's Giro d'Italia have been complex and testing, with no one team able or wanting to lead out the peloton. Instead position and sprinting skills have been vital.
"Nobody breaks in a sprint, you have to follow your instinct," Greipel pointed out, going on to explain the keys to the day's win.
"There was a head wind until two kilometres to go. We just tried to stay in front, we had our plan. Everything worked out; all the team was there and did their part. My lead out was Lars Bak and Moreno Hofland and Jasper De Buyst, they did a good job."
"At the end I was behind Luka Mezgec of Orica-Scott. I gambled a bit and just hoped he kept pulling and did not drop me off in the wind. I think I waited for right moment before going for it. I'm just proud to take a win for the team."
Last year, like many other sprinters, Greipel quit the Giro after the sprint finish in Bibione. The others slipped away quietly, but Greipel was leading the points competition and true to character, publicly apologised and explained why he had decided to leave the race.
Some fans and race organisers RCS Sport were not happy with him. This year Greipel refused to reveals his plans but with the Tour de France sprints also a huge goal, he is expected to head home after the last flat day of the race to Tortona on stage 13.
"The goal was to win a stage. We reached our goal on our second day," he said, refusing to confirm if he will reach Milan.
"To be honest, it wasn't an easy to decision to quit last year, it was in my mind all year. But this year is another chance for stage wins we've done it on the second day and we've got the jersey. I'm really proud to have made this possible."
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