SAINT LO, France (VN) — Ever notice how sprinters celebrate after they win a stage? It’s a volcano of unbridled emotion and joy. The peloton’s fastest riders hug their teammates as if they’ve just been released from prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
Why are they so thankful? Perhaps more than anyone in the peloton, sprinters win or lose depending on their teammates. Without a solid lead-out, a steady wheel, or a strong train, the sprinters know that freelance victories are hard to come by in the law-of-the-jungle world of the mass sprints.
In the 2015 Tour de France, André Greipel (Lotto – Soudal) won four stages to confirm his status as one of the best and most consistent sprinters in the game. After winning three stages at the Giro d’Italia, Greipel has won at least one stage in nine straight grand tours he’s started since the 2008 Giro.
For 2016, Greipel returns to the Tour to pick up on his career-best of last season. Leading him out will be his well-oiled and finely tuned “Gorilla Express” at Lotto – Soudal.
[pullquote attrib=”Marcel Sieberg” align=”right”]When André wins, it’s a win for me, too. He is also one of my best friends. It’s something special when you can work for a really good friend, who is also a teammate.[/pullquote]
A few weeks before the Tour, VeloNews talked with Marcel Sieberg, one of Greipel’s longtime teammates and key lead-out men in the highly successful Lotto train. Without a GC option, Lotto – Soudal brings a team stacked with lead-out men who can also hunt for breakaway stage victories deeper in the race. On the sprint stages, however, it’s all hands on deck for Greipel.
At 34, Sieberg has been with Greipel since their days at the High Road organization. The six-foot-six German has sacrificed much of his career so that Greipel can win (134 victories).
Sieberg talked us through what it takes to win a sprint stage at the Tour de France:
Building a unit:
“We’ve had a nice group of guys together for quite a few years. A few of us came across from High Road [Greipel, Greg Henderson, Sieberg, Lars Bak, and Adam Hansen all raced together at HTC]. We know each other well, and we each know how to do our jobs. It’s a good unit, with a lot of experience, but we’re also all good friends. This year, we will have Jurgen Roelandts, and our train will be even better.”
Setting realistic goals:
“We always go to the Tour with the goal of winning one stage. It’s very hard to win at the Tour, because the sprinters’ level is very high. Once you have one, you go for a second, and a third. To win last year on the Champs-Élysées was something special. For a sprinter, that’s like winning on top of Alpe d’Huez if you’re a climber.”
“All the teams know when there is going to be a sprint, so it’s pretty obvious, especially in the first half of the race. It’s harder to control the breakaways, especially in the second half, because the legs are getting tired from the mountains. There are not many opportunities for sprints these days, so when the stage looks good for the sprinters, all the teams are working together for the same goal.”
[related title=”More about André Greipel” align=”right” tag=”Andre-Greipel”]
“Everyone on the team has a role to play in the sprint. A lot of it depends on what’s happening in the breakaway. Like last year, we will have Thomas De Gendt controlling the group. He will go to the front and set a strong tempo. Sometimes the peloton is going so fast, you don’t even need to pull. When the GC guys are at the front, the speed is already very high.”
“The break is usually caught, and we keep the speed is high to keep other riders from attacking late. We have Lars Bak to bring us into position as we get closer to the line. He makes sure everyone is together, usually on one side of the road. Most teams do that these days, so it’s not as complicated to keep everyone together as it used to be.”
3km to go:
“Lars rides as long as possible, and then we have Tony Gallopin take over with 3km to go. He sets a high pace, and then Adam Hansen takes us over and brings us close to the flame rouge.”
“I start just before 1km to go. The speed is very fast. At this point, the most important thing is to keep position. Everyone is really fighting hard at this point. There is a lot of bumping. Most of the riders know how far they can go, but some take too many risks that are a problem for everyone. André is very respectful, and sometimes I wish he would fight even more. He prefers to let his legs do the talking.”
[pullquote attrib=”Marcel Sieberg” align=”left”]André is very respectful, and sometimes I wish he would fight even more. He prefers to let his legs do the talking.[/pullquote]
500m to go:
“It then happens very fast. I usually peel off with 500m or 600m to go, and I try to drop them off on a good wheel. Last year, we had Jens Debusschere go behind me, and he is very good at positioning, especially on finishes with cornering. Roelandts will also be there for the final, and we will see where he fits in. Henderson is usually the last to pull for André, and they know each other very well. Hendy knows where to drop André, or lead him out to the line. Hendy usually can tell straight away if André is going to win. When I see Hendy’s arms going up, I know we’ve done our job.”
“André is always searching for a fast wheel. It’s always chaotic in the final sprint, and you have to adapt. You have to improvise depending on the stage. The Tour is always a bit different than other races because there are so many trains fighting for position. When André has a clean shot to the finish line, we know he is very hard to beat.”
“It’s a bit different every day, and it depends on the conditions, but I am usually at 900 watts to 1,000 watts for 20 to 30 seconds. The final sprint can be double that.”
“When André wins, it’s a win for me, too. He is also one of my best friends. It’s something special when you can work for a really good friend, who is also a teammate. It’s easy to ride for him. André knows that he needs a team to win, and we have a nice group that’s been together a few years now.”
“We get a small bonus when he wins, but it’s not about that. It’s more about doing your job, and doing it the correct way. There is a professional satisfaction, but we are also like a family on this team.”