As he often reminds reporters, André Greipel prefers to let his legs do the talking, and they certainly provided a forceful statement in Madinat Al Shamal as the Lotto-Belisol man sprinted to a resounding victory on stage 5 of the Tour of Qatar.
The previous day, Greipel had endured the narrowest of defeats to Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), losing out by the width of a rim in the sprint, and on hearing the result of the photo finish, the German's first instinct was to murmur a shy apology to his teammates.
On Thursday, Greipel provided a fuller and more eloquent response to that disappointment by landing a comfortable sprint victory over Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEdge). It was a victory, Greipel admitted, that was born partly out of anger.
"Maybe I put a little bit of anger into my sprint today, but I think it was a good sprint," Greipel told reporters, his voice scarcely rising above a whisper.
Indeed, such is Greipel's aversion to making declarations with his mouth rather than his legs that he had very nearly succeeded in slipping away from the podium without speaking to any journalists at all. A six foot frame and a German champion's skinsuit do not make for the most effective camouflage in the desert, however, and a delegation of reporters arrested Greipel as he wheeled his bike towards doping control. With a smile of resignation, he quietly described the day's events, as requested.
"I think QuickStep wanted to let the breakaway go today so we took the responsibility and tried to set up the sprint. I think the team did a really good job during the whole stage to chase the breakaway down and to keep me out of trouble," he said.
Two of the most trusted elements of Greipel's lead-out team, Marcel Sieberg and Jürgen Roelandts, guided him through the final kilometres, where a stiff crosswind could easily have derailed his hopes, but the German was keen to stress that it was very much an ensemble effort.
"Everyone was part of the victory today, because Kris Boeckmans and Jonas [Vangenechten] brught us to the front with two kilometres to go and then you have the experienced guys like Sieberg and Roelandts, who are always in the right position," Greipel said. "It was more a headwind today but if you see the last two kilometres it was crosswind and it was an important thing to be there in front. It was a tactical decision for us and once we had the spot, we defended it to get the shelter."
Thursday's victory is Greipel's third of the new season, after he landed a brace of wins at the Tour Down Under, but he admitted that it was something of a relief to break Omega Pharma-QuickStep's domination this week. "Of course, we wanted to win a stage here and now we have it," he said.
Welcome though the victory was, February races are rarely a destination unto themselves. Everybody in Qatar is on the road to somewhere else, be it the spring classics or objectives further down the line, but Greipel joked that his principal aim from the week was simply "to finish this race in one piece."
Since joining Lotto in 2011, however, Greipel has made continued improvement on the cobbles and he offered crucial support to Jürgen Roelandts at last year's Tour of Flanders, a role he intends to reprise once again this season. "The last four days were really hard and Oman is also important," he said. "I think it's the next step towards the classics."
Before helping Roelandts in April, of course, there is an opportunity for Greipel to land a significant win of his own on the cobbles in early March. Last season's Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne fell victim to the weather, but assuming that kind of snowfall doesn't repeat itself, he will line up as one of the favourites for victory.
Greipel was cautious, however, when asked if Kuurne would be a goal. "Yeah, could be," he said, before his face creased into a smile: "But maybe we need skis there." His legs will doubtless tell us more on March 2.
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