Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) stormed to victory in the Down Under Classic in Adelaide on Sunday evening, the lead up criterium to the Santos Tour Down Under which begins Tuesday. The win echoed 2008 when Greipel took out the same event, before dominating the Australian race.
"It's always a good race when you win at the end, especially the first race when the whole ProTour peloton is here," Greipel said. "I'm just happy to finish it off at the end today."
The result was a study in the fine art of lead out trains with Marcel Seiberg setting up the team perfectly on the back straight before the final sprint. Lotto Belisol made their moves with around six laps remaining 30 laps criterium, with Greipel's trusted workhorse Adam Hansen moving towards the front of the bunch.
However, it was the efforts of Greg Henderson, who joins the Belgian outfit following an unhappy season at Sky, which was most evident as the catalyst for the German sprinter's win. The union was previously in existence in 2008 and 2009 when the pair were at HTC-Columbia with Greipel netting over 30 wins with Henderson his main man.
In 2011 racing for Omega Pharma-Lotto, while he won his first stage at the Tour de France it was a frustrating season for the man from Rostock, netting only 10 wins his worst collection since 2007 when he hit the line first in just two races. What was once 'easy', was now that little bit more difficult having left the well-drilled lead out train of HTC-Highroad.
Asked if he was the missing ingredient for Greipel's success, Henderson was frank.
"That's what I was employed for," the Kiwi told Cyclingnews, still buzzing from his teammate's result. "To bring my knowledge and I've been doing leadouts for HTC-Columbia, Sky and now I just brought my knowledge here and I just told them how we were going to do it."
Greipel created a massive gap very quickly on his opposition to take the win, but Henderson was in no way surprised by the domination shown by his teammate in the sprint and said it was an ominous sign for what was to come in 2012.
"I train with him and race with him," Henderson explained. "If he's got a position he steps on it. You know how much power he's got. I'm leading out at 70km/h and he just comes past me. I just don't understand how anyone can go so fast. You've seen it. He's right up there with the likes of [Mark] Cavendish. The two are going to have a great rivalry this year."
Greipel, meanwhile, had nothing but praise for his teammates.
"Did you see the sprint today?" he said. "I think the guys were awesome. I just needed to stay on the wheels. I just saw Rabobank and Sky they couldn't pass so I think that meant we have a lot of horsepower in our team."
The 2011 edition of the Tour Down Under was seen as the first showdown between Cavendish and Greipel given they were racing apart for the first time. The race did not provide the fireworks that had been expected between the pair but this time around, Greipel was not fussed that a re-match was not being played out in Adelaide this year.
"We stick to our plan with the team," he said. "It doesn't matter where it is we want to be competitive and it doesn't matter which race it is."
As for Henderson, he was clearly excited by the result his own form had produced.
"All I've done is sprint training and I was really happy today," he explained. "I felt fast. I delivered Greipel perfectly. I did a lot of accelerations to keep Greipel out of trouble.
"The one thing he has to work on is holding the wheel in the bunch but I'm happy with my form. I'm climbing like a brick at the moment but I'm sprinting fast."
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As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.
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