ARPAJON-SUR-CRE, France (AFP) — The heat is on for Andre Greipel and his Lotto – Soudal team on Thursday’s sixth stage of the Tour de France.
Greipel has yet to win a stage at this year’s Tour despite being the dominant sprinter a year ago, winning four stages — including the last one on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
With the Pyrénées fast approaching on Friday, Thursday’s 190.5-kilometer run from Arpajon-sur-Cere to Montauban is almost certain to end in a sprint finish, according to Australian rider Simon Gerrans.
“Today being the last flat-ish stage for about the next week, it’s hard to imagine it being anything but a bunch kick,” the Orica – BikeExchange rider said on Twitter.
It means a last chance for Greipel to finally get off the mark before days of sweating up huge mountains and trying merely to survive.
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While his sprint rivals Mark Cavendish (two) and Marcel Kittel (one) have won three stages between them already, Greipel has cut a frustrated figure, never yet managing to get himself into a position to truly threaten.
But Lotto – Soudal is aiming to change that on Thursday, according to one of Greipel’s lead-out men Jurgen Roelandts.
“Today is probably a new opportunity for a sprint, the last one before the rest day,” the Belgian said.
“Because we didn’t win yet, the pressure is rising of course, but we have a team that should be able to cope with that.
“It’s a bad idea to panic, at the Giro it also took a few days before we won a first time — but a victory would of course be welcome.”
With temperatures of 77 degrees at the start in the Cantal region and rising to nearly 90 degrees at the finish in the southwest of France, it’s going to be a tough day for a breakaway to hold off the peloton.
Greg Van Avermaet of BMC Racing leads the Tour overall after managing to stay away in Wednesday’s fifth stage, the first time a breakaway had gone all the way to then line.
The Belgian leads by more than five minutes in the standings but is almost certain to lose his grip on the yellow jersey Friday.
On Thursday, there’s no way Lotto will let a breakaway get too far down the road.
So far, where they’ve really gone wrong is in positioning Greipel in the right place once the sprint starts.
“It’s all about getting to the front at the right moment in these hectic Tour sprints,” Roelandts said.
They have to battle with the other sprinters’ teams, in particular Etixx – Quick-Step — which found its groove on Tuesday’s fourth stage, setting up Kittel for victory.
“A flat stage is on the cards, we will try to set up Marcel for the sprint,” Etixx rider Julian Alaphilippe, who is second overall, said of Thursday.