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André Greipel at the Tour Down Under. Photo: Tim...

Lotto looks to Greipel for Tour while eyeing Ewan for 2019

André Greipel set to headline Lotto Soudal in July, with possible restructuring of team's sprint arm on horizon for next season

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Belgian WorldTour team Lotto-Soudal is headed to the 2018 Tour de France with André Greipel set to lead the way in the sprints. Things may appear different in 2019, however, without Greipel on the pointy edge of the team’s sprint train and Australian Caleb Ewan ready to switch from Mitchelton-Scott.

Mitchelton left 23-year-old Ewan off of its 2018 Tour de France roster when making the eight-man selection Thursday. Ewan — whose contract with the Australian squad only runs until the end of the season — was due to make his Tour de France debut this season and felt “more than devastated.”

“Whether he is an option or not [for Lotto-Soudal], he obviously cannot go with his team to the Tour,” Lotto-Soudal boss Marc Sergeant told Sporza. “That’s kind of weird, and that would never happen to us.”

Mitchelton said this winter that it had planned to sprint with Ewan, a stage winner at both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta España, but given how the team has performed this year hunting GC results, Mitchelton decided to put its weight completely behind Adam Yates.

A similar snub saw Simon Gerrans leave the team at the end of 2017 to join BMC Racing. The Australian is due to support Richie Porte in his bid to win the Tour.

VeloNews has heard from a handful of insiders that a Ewan-to-Lotto 2019 deal is already done and that the parties are waiting until August 1 for the official announcement. The cycling governing body sets the date as the first time riders and teams may sign contracts for the coming year, even if many do so beforehand and announce them later.

The move would change the face of team Lotto-Soudal. The Belgian team hired Greipel from HTC-Highroad after his famous inner-team clashes with Mark Cavendish. Marcel Sieberg, Vicente Reynes, Adam Hansen, and Gert Docxk made the jump too. Since 2011, Greipel has brought in 11 Tour de France stage wins for Sergeant.

Greipel, 35 and 12 years older than Ewan, is edging toward the end of his career. Last year, he was unable to best Marcel Kittel and Michael Matthews at the Tour, and took home zero wins, with only a second and three third places in July.

“His emotional state was not optimal, his mother was very ill, she died this winter, it’s strange to say, but for him it was a liberation, they both had peace with it, and then he was reborn,” Sergeant added. “In the Tour Down Under he was already good, without his collarbone fracture he would have done even more.”

Recently, Greipel said that it looks like he is leaving the team in 2019, having only received a one-year contract on offer. He wants more security, and wants to continue for two more years.

Sergeant remains optimistic about the Lotto-Greipel relationship. “We had a good conversation, that deal is on the right track, and we would like to have a definite answer for the Tour so that we can forget about it,” he said.

“It is a misconception that we only wanted to offer it for one year, it was always about two years, but it was about the wages, which is logical, and his age starts to play a role.

“There is respect from both sides. He didn’t want to invest in a new team. He wants to end his career with us and we give him that option. We are talking about small things. Within a few days, I expect an agreement.”

Either way, Greipel is expected to play a smaller roll in 2019 with Ewan coming on board with his unique chest-to-stem sprint style.

Lotto-Soudal in the meantime is readying for another Tour de France with Greipel. Thursday night, Sergeant named his team with a video message that showed him selecting each rider and sending a group message from his telephone. The names: Greipel, Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Keukeleire, Jelle Vanendert, Tomasz Marczynski, and Marcel Sieberg.