Eyeing an opening, Greipel gets his Tour train

Lotto brings four riders to help the Gorilla add to his 2011 Tour de France stage win

André Greipel will get the support he wants going into this year’s Tour de France in an aggressive bid to dominate the sprints.

Lotto-Belisol has confirmed that Greipel will receive at least four riders to help set him up for the mass sprints during the Tour.

That’s big news for Greipel, who won a stage in last year’s Tour and leads the win column so far through 2012, with 13 victories on the year.

“We have big expectations for the Tour this year,” Greipel told VeloNews. “The big goal will be to win a stage. Everything else will be a bonus.”

Lotto-Belisol has confirmed seven of its Tour nine.

Behind GC riders Jurgen Van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert, the team has confirmed that four riders will be dedicated to helping Greipel.

Those riders are Giro d’Italia stage winner Lars Bak, Jurgen Roelandts, Marcel Seiberg, and Greg Henderson.

Of course, it’s all hands on deck during the Tour, and many of those riders will also be helping out the team’s GC hopes as long as they can.

However, in the flat, transitional stages in the opening half of the Tour, they will be working to push Greipel into position to win sprints and chase the green jersey.

The decision comes as a big relief for Greipel, who was unsure last month about how many riders he would have at his disposal for the Tour.

The German’s Lotto team is facing a similar quandary as Team Sky, which will have red-hot favorite Bradley Wiggins roaring into the Tour with major momentum. Sky is expected to bring horsepower to support Wiggins’ bid for the yellow jersey, at the expense of world champion Mark Cavendish’s bid to up his 20-win Tour total.

Perhaps sensing an opening, it’s clear that Lotto is betting big on Greipel. Van den Broeck and Vanendert are both outsiders for the yellow jersey, and the team will want to maximize its chances across all disciplines.

For Greipel, that means he will have more riders for the sprints, more pressure to control the sprint stages, and more expectations to finish off the work with a win.

“There will be teams to control the sprints. Which ones? Lotto. Why not? It depends which riders we take. We have also Vanendert and Van Den Broeck for the GC,” Greipel said. “I do not expect to have those guys — Vanendert and Van Den Broeck — working for me in the sprint, but I can help them in the other stages.”

For Greipel, the team’s confidence comes following his move to Lotto in 2011, when he had a solid year after riding in the shadow of Cavendish at High Road for several seasons.

At Lotto, he is clearly the top dog and he’s savoring the chance to deliver even bigger results. The big German ace said that with the Lotto train largely intact, it only makes his work even easier in the bunch sprints.

“This year could be even better (than 2011) with the leadout train. They are so strong; all I need to do is follow the guys. They can make the difference before the sprint,” he said. “I feel very comfortable here (at Lotto) and that is very important for me to have a nice feeling, that everyone works together.”

Greipel said his breakthrough Tour stage win last year was important, but it certainly hasn’t dampened his ambitions.

“For me, winning a stage last year in the Tour, it changed nothing for me as a person. It was a dream coming true,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t believe I could win a race like this, but I showed them I could with some good sprints there.”

Greipel won a stage at last week’s Ster tour in Holland with archrival Cavendish in the field. Greipel skipped the Giro d’Italia to race the Tour of Belgium, so all eyes will be on the Greipel-Cavendish showdown in the Tour.

Lotto is expected to finalize its Tour roster this week.