The first week in the 2016 edition of the Tour de France is turning out to be a frustrating one for André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal). The German sprinter came close to the win in the first two occasions and sat up in the final part of the two last sprints. After finishing 15th in stage 6 in Montauban, it was clear Greipel's mood hit rock bottom, as he waited in the team bus refusing to speak with the media post-stage.
Greipel not coming off the bus to talk with the media speaks volumes about his current state of mind. During the previous sprint stages he always took his time to answer questions. This time Greipel clearly didn't feel like talking. As usually, the ever-so-calm Marc Sergeant was there to protect his riders.
"It's disappointing. It's something you have to grant him. I'll go outside [laughs]. The first moments it's always very hard for him because he can't accept not having gotten the chance to sprint along at full power for the victory. That's difficult, for the whole team. Greipel is a closed book in these moments. It's hard to digest but there's no need to panic," Sergeant said.
Greipel seemed to head into the final kilometre well positioned near the front. After coming through the final sharp right-hand corner he was near the front, on the righthand side of the peloton. He looked around and marked the wheel from Alexander Kristoff, moving towards the left during a long fast lefthand corner. He moved a bit further to the left than Kristoff did. At about 300 metres to go, Greipel launched his sprint only to find his way blocked by the lead-out riders from Direct Energie and Etixx-QuickStep, who came off the front. He looked down, seemingly checking his gear, standing on the pedals one more time. By then Kittel and Cavendish had their sprint underway, overtaking Kristoff. Greipel looked down again before eventually sitting up.
"When watching the replay of the sprint I saw that he moved to the left in the long corner, swerving towards the barriers. We told him to take the left. Adrien Petit [Direct Energie] was there. When they had to go, Petit doesn't go. A group of riders with Cavendish came flying by on his right. You see him looking. It was over. It was a wrong call. Probably the train hadn't work perfectly. They were spread out," Sergeant said.
When analyzing the bunch sprint Sergeant first hopped in the bus to see the sprint, as the TV signal in the team cars has turned out to be non-existing the last few days.
"Some things went wrong. Henderson said he was near André, saying he constantly saw him but didn't manage to get on him. It shouldn't happen because they're well organized. They learn everything about this during the morning meeting in the bus, probably ten times hearing at which point what has to be done. You can't do more than that."
Providing additional tactical tips during the sprint isn't possible, Sergeant explained, mostly due to a poor TV signal. "A rider has to feel what he has to do. We can't tell him that. If we would have TV footage then it comes with a delay of a five, six seconds. So, it's useless for us to comment on things that happened a long time ago.
"You have to acknowledge that if Cavendish wins three sprints, he's clearly the fastest one and Greipel should be there with him. That wasn't the case. Cavendish is one of the best sprinters in the Tour de France right now. Last year that man was Greipel. Then Cavendish won a stage because he sprinted like a gentleman. We're not giving up just yet."
Greipel and the Lotto Soudal team have given up on the green jersey, he added. Which explains why Greipel sat up in the two last sprints and skipped taking part in the intermediate sprint. "It's not his ambition to take as much points as possible so why would he bother."
The next possible bunch sprint awaits the riders next Tuesday. Sergeant didn't mind too much that there was a time-out for Greipel. "It's up to the climbers now. Our team is ready for that, as Thomas De Gendt showed yesterday," Sergeant said, referring to his rider in the polka dot jersey who finished as runner-up on Wednesday.
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