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Early in Thursday’s infernally cold and rainy stage at the Volta ao Algarve, André Greipel called off his HTC-Columbia troops and told them not to chase down a five-man breakaway that had opened up a six-minute gap.
Race conditions were horrible in the five-climb, 207.5km second stage in the deceptively steep hills in Portugal’s Algarve region and scores of riders abandoned, including Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne).
Once he smelled the finish line, however, Greipel came to life and powered his way up the steep finishing hill to pass Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) to snag his sixth win of the 2010 season.
“I felt really bad today and I told (the team) not to work, and we left it to the other teams to chase,” Greipel said. “It was the same for everyone. It was 207km in the cold and rain, it was not very nice.
The cold and rain is not my favorite kind of weather. The whole day was very hard, with a lot of climbs. We checked the final in the car in the last three kilometers, so that helped.”
Greipel just missed victory in Wednesday’s opener when two riders snuck away in the final kilometer to upset the sprinters. In Thursday’s hellish stage, David Vitoria (Footon-Servetto-Fuji) was swept up with 200 meters to go after leading in a breakaway that started at 12km.
With HTC-Columbia not leading the chase, Euskaltel-Euskadi picked up the chase with some collaboration from Astana and methodically reeled in the remnants of the breakaway. Koldo Fernández won on the same finishing climb last year and Euskaltel was paid back for their efforts when Olympic champion finished third.
“We caught (Vitoria) at the last round-about with 200 meters to go,” Greipel said. “We didn’t expect to catch us.”
But Greipel’s joy was Vitoria’s disappointment. Briton Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo), Belgian Jérôme Baugnies (Topsport Vlaanderen), Polish rider Michal Golas (Vacansoleil) and Frenchman Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) accompanied Vitoria.
Vitoria pushed bravely alone after Fouchard was the last to give up the fight with 30km to go. Fighting alone against the harsh conditions, Vitoria was only caught at the base of the final climb with just 200 meters to go.
“It’s been a pity, because the stage was extremely hard due to the weather, and I got myself bonked in the last three or four kilometers. Without that little breakdown, I’m sure I’d have reached the line, because they only caught me with (200) meters left. I knew that the final slope was really steep, but got on it with no energy,” he said. “That said, I’m happy since several teams had to work together to chase me down, and that means I’ve given my best. That’s how cycling works: sometimes it makes you happy with less effort, and today, when I took so much work, I was given no prize.”
Greipel on terrific run
Greipel’s victory was impressive enough, but what’s even more breathtaking is the power that the big German is able to produce.
He told VeloNews that in Wednesday’s bunch sprint for third (behind two late-attacking riders) he produced 1,820 watts in the final sprint.
It’s that kind of impressive power that’s propelled Greipel to his tremendous start of the 2010 season.
So far in just 12 days of racing, Greipel’s won on five of those stages. Count six victories on the 2010 season with the overall at Tour Down Under.
His victory Thursday also delivered him the Algarve leader’s jersey, five seconds ahead of Wednesday’s winner Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJeux).
Roelandts slotted into third at eight seconds back.
Greipel doesn’t expect to keep the lead for long, however. Friday’s 173.7km third stage features six rated climbs, including the summit finish at Alto do Malhao, where Toni Colom nipped defending champ Alberto Contador last year.
Contador finished in the front group at six seconds back to remain 20 seconds out of the lead.
Others riding strong in the front group were Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden (RadioShack), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmins-Transitions) and Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia).