ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — The Gorilla is back in the WorldTour and he’s poised for a return to life in the fast lane.
After a week of bashing in the sprints with his new teammates at the Santos Tour Down Under, Greipel pedals optimistically into the rest of the season.
“The atmosphere is good,” Greipel said. “We are all working good together in the race, and there are more good things to come.”
Greipel doesn’t give much away, but from all early indications, he’s relishing the chance to prove his critics wrong.
Greipel didn’t win last week, but was fifth, fourth and sixth in the three sprints he contested. For a winner of Greipel’s caliber, that’s not enough. Yet considering he’s coming back to the WorldTour level after racing 2019 on a smaller French team, the veteran German sees enough promising signs in how his new teammates are performing to give him hope for the coming weeks and months.
“We have to see the positive things that we are here as a team and riding as a team, and we can prepare finals,” he said. “Even if it didn’t bring out individually, it brings out a lot of confidence that we can perform in the highest level in the sprints.”
Greipel, who left Lotto-Soudal after 2018 to race with Arkéa-Samsic last season, is back in the WorldTour on a one-year deal with the Israeli project.
That one-year demotion of sorts was hard for Greipel to swallow. For the better part of a decade, he was one of the most consistent and prolific sprinters in the bunch. Things started to change in 2017, when Greipel fell short of winning a stage at the Tour de France.
By 2018, Lotto-Soudal quietly started searching for a new sprinter, eventually settling on Caleb Ewan to join in 2019. The team let Greipel go rather unceremoniously, and he landed at Arkea-Samsic.
Last season didn’t go as well as hoped for both parties, and Arkea-Samsic is changing directions by signing Colombian star Nairo Quintana and his cadre, with hopes of hitting some success in the 2020 Tour de France.
Greipel didn’t feel like he was done, and was looking for a team in need of a proven winner. The Israeli team was searching for an established sprinter to help guide the team through its inaugural WorldTour season, and Greipel fit the bill.
“It’s a new challenge,” Greipel said. “I still want to win some races and I can help this team. So far, things are working well.”
That’s good enough for Greipel right now, who looks as buff and fit as ever. His speed is the big question mark. Last year, he only won once, in a race in Africa. In 2018, he won eight times, but no grand tour stages and no WorldTour races in Europe.
How much Greipel might be slowing down is hard to tell. At the Tour Down Under, Greipel was a bike length or so behind the likes of Ewan or Sam Bennett, but both of those riders had expert lead-out trains towing them to the line.
The German put on a poker face when he was asked about Ewan, who left the Tour Down Under with two stage wins.
“There is just one rider who can turn first,” Greipel said. “It’s obvious how strong [Ewan] is at the moment. That’s why he wins races and that’s why he has the team to support him.”
Ewan, of course, was tapped by Lotto-Soudal to take over as its marquee sprinter in 2019. That marginalized Greipel, who rode with Lotto-Soudal from 2011 to 2018, and won 11 stages at the Tour de France, including at least one per Tour from 2011 to 2016.
When he just missed out on a win in 2017 and struggled to match the speeds in the sprints in 2018, Lotto-Soudal team brass recruited Ewan to take over as the team’s top sprinter. Ewan delivered last year, winning 10 times across the season, including three stages at the Tour.
After his Australian swing, Greipel returns to Europe this week, and will race next at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice before ramping up for the northern classics. Whether he goes back to the Tour remains to be seen.
“We are working as a team and racing as a team,” Greipel said. “That’s the most important thing at the moment. The results will come.”
Greipel has nothing to prove, but he still wants to win a few more races. At Israel Start-Up Nation, he’ll get more than a few chances for that.