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Giro d'Italia

Greipel wins races, not popularity contests

Though André Greipel counts more grand tour stage wins, he can't match the popularity of his countryman and rival sprinter Marcel Kittel.

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BENEVENTO, Italy (VN) — André Greipel has been sprinting in the shadows for years, even though he is one of the most consistent grand tour fast men, proving himself again Wednesday with a stage win in the Giro d’Italia.

Before it was Mark Cavendish and now it is Marcel Kittel. It seems that Greipel can dominate sprints — he has won one in each grand tour that he raced since 2008 — but not the media’s attention.

“I love the sport the way it is,” Lotto – Soudal’s 33-year-old said when asked about Kittel’s greater popularity at home in Germany. “I’m not asking the media to pay attention to me, but I’m always open to interviews and chats. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and maybe because I also started riding and racing my bike when it was the difficult years [with Jan Ullrich’s and other scandals in Germany].”

Or is it because Kittel has a more sellable media presence with his broad smile and blond coif? Greipel responded with a grin, “For sure, Marcel is not ugly, but I think that I also don’t need to hide behind the wall.”

Greipel has been winning stages in every grand tour he raced for some time. “Not in every one,” he added. “In the 2007 Vuelta a España, I could only manage second. [His best finish in that Vuelta was actually fourth -Ed.]” The statistic, which counts four sprint wins in the 2015 Tour de France, still impresses, as do his 18 career grand tour stage wins.

In Wednesday’s sprint into Benevento, in Italy’s south, he dropped all of his rivals and by a healthy margin. This year’s Milano-Sanremo winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ) could only come within three bike lengths of the ‘Gorilla’ as Greipel is affectionately known.

When Greipel won his 2008 Giro stage over the Swiss border in Locarno, it was unclear if team Highroad planned for him to win or to lead-out its star Cavendish — or if ‘Cav’ had squeezed the brakes to give one to his lesser-known teammate.

Greipel remained in Cavendish’s shadow, though they almost never raced together in team Highroad – HTC. Even when Greipel left for Belgian WorldTour team Lotto and began winning in the Tour de France with his first participation in 2011, Cavendish and others like Tyler Farrar and Peter Sagan continued to dominate the headlines.

It seemed that in the 2015 Tour, with Kittel sitting out after an early season illness, Greipel would finally rise above. He dominated the sprints with four wins, but it changed little. Kittel’s four wins and stints in the yellow jersey may have resonated briefly in Germany and abroad, but Greipel’s wins were soon back-page items, especially with news that Kittel would transfer to Etixx – Quick-Step for 2016.

“I mean it’s not about only Marcel and me,” Greipel said when asked if today’s win was his response to Kittel’s two wins and a day in the pink jersey.

“There are a lot of good sprinters here, and everyone is trying their best in these stages. For sure, Marcel is a really strong sprinter and hard to beat when he is focused on the sprint. What can I say? I can just try my best and we have a lot of respect for each other.”