Mission accomplished: German national champion André Greipel said before the race that he wanted at least one stage win from the Giro d'Italia and on a crash-torn finish in Castiglione della Pescaia, the Lotto-Soudal sprinter claimed one of the most impressive victories of his 12 year career.
Greipel’s perfectly timed manoeuvre was in stark contrast with the disappointment of stage 2 at Genova on Sunday, where on a steadily rising final climb to the line, the 32-year-old miscalculated his final dash for the line and Team Sky's Elia Viviani came over the top of him to claim the win.
This time around there were no such errors. Instead as the finish loomed Greipel was guided into pole position by his Lotto-Soudal teammates, with his usual leadout man Greg Henderson working hard to leave Greipel just where he needed to be, centre stage and at the head of the pack 200 metres from the line.
At that point, Greipel opened up the throttle, pounding across the finish a good half bike length clear of Italian duo Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida).
"It all worked in the way we were planning this morning on the bus," Greipel said later when asked to describe the closing kilometres of the third stage win of his career in the Giro d'Italia, following his victories in the same race in 2008 and 2010. His latest also means he has won at least one Grand Tour stage every season since the Giro d'Italia in 2008.
"[Teammates] Lars Bak was very focused and he kept me on the front, he did a really long pull, and then for four guys to do the last three kilometres in front was really impressive. Adam Hansen worked from 1,200 metres to 600 metres to the line, then Henderson did a long, long lead-out."
Greipel's fondness for dry humour became evident when asked what the difference was between the stage 6 finish and his failure to capture a win four days early in Genoa. "[On stage two] the finish line came too late," he said. "Well, I started too early, it was slightly uphill and I was passed before the line.
"I have to add that Viviani and Moreno Hofland (Lotto NL-Jumbo, third in the Genoa sprint) are not so slow, eh? They are really fast guys, really good sprinters, so it's not all about me."
Greipel's talking to the media was delayed by a few minutes as Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Stefano Feltrin, sitting next to him on the press conference table, fielded questions about Alberto Contador after the race leader crashed in the closing metres of the stage. But as could be expected, Greipel was also asked to comment on rider safety.
"I would just say one word: respect. Everybody should respect the guy next to him," Greipel said. "I didn't see what happened, I just saw [crash victim Daniele] Colli (Vini Fantini) near the barrier. Sometimes crashes are part of our job and hopefully everyone can start tomorrow. At the end, it all happened behind me, we were concentrated to stay in front. My team did a really good job to keep me out of trouble."
The much-debated question of whether general classification riders were all but obliged to form part of final bunch sprints - although there is the three kilometre rule, a split in the bunch even after that distance from the line can cause riders to lose time and therefore they need to stay close to the front - was next on the list for Greipel to answer
"Our job is to get over the line stage by stage, and that's cycling – getting from A to B. And if a crash happens in the last three kilometres, everybody gets the same time, so it's hard to make a decision about it," Greipel reflected.
"Safety is always a big thing, and like I said before, it's about respect for the rider beside you and about fair play."
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