MARAMIS, Turkey (VN) — Although the 2016 UCI WorldTour calendar is less than halfway underway, it’s already a start to the season that André Greipel would like to put behind him. And just when it looked as though the veteran sprinter with 129 wins to his palmares was all set to get back on track, the wheels literally came out from under him again.
This time, the frustration occurred inside the first 10 kilometers of the opening stage of the 52nd Presidential Tour of Turkey in Istanbul last Sunday, April 24.
Greipel who had suffered broken ribs as a result of a crash in the closing kilometers of stage 4 of Portugal’s Volta ao Algarve in February, sustained a strained calf that would plague him for the remaining four Tour of Turkey stages. He withdrew after the fifth stage to head home and begin preparations for the Giro d’Italia — but not before claiming his 11th career stage win in Turkey, a hard-fought victory in stage 3 under blustery conditions in Konya.
“I’ve had the worst beginning of a season ever in my career,” Greipel told VeloNews. “With broken ribs I wasn’t able to train like I wanted and especially couldn’t focus on sprint training as it was just impossible to do.
“Still I know I’m not on the level I used to be for the sprints, but I’m still good and getting better every day.”
Following his return from injury, the still-wounded “Gorilla” failed to finish Paris-Nice and Gent-Wevelgem, before turning his focus toward Flanders and Paris-Roubaix where he finished 28th and 35th respectively.
Throughout his recent hardships, Greipel remains both optimistic and passionate about the sport and is confident about the future.
“I love the sport and I love to challenge myself,” he said. “I am still living my dream of being a professional rider.
“I just enjoy being a part of the team as they are a part of my own family — I just enjoy every day of racing.”
And as far as age is concerned, the 33-year-old German says it is a non-issue at moment.
“I’m getting older, but I don’t think age is a factor at the moment,” said the three-time Giro stage winner, who has only finished the race once in three starts. “I’m back in my sprint training and for sure the form will come back. It’s not about age, it’s just about having a year where I haven’t been able to push myself to higher limits.”
While Greipel proclaimed he would “give 100 victories to be world champion” while still holding on to his 10 Tour de France stage wins in an interview with Cycling Weekly last December, he is not looking past competing against his rivals, including fellow countryman Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) and Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), across the seven sprint stages scheduled over the three-week grand tour of Italy.
“It’s impressive to see what Marcel and Caleb are doing with their careers, and I believe they both have a big future ahead of them,” said Greipel of the 27- and 21-year-old sprinters, the latter of which is making his first career Giro start after taking his first grand tour stage win at the Vuelta a España last year. “But I’m not done yet and look forward to racing them at the Giro, in Qatar, and for many more races to come.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a contributor to VeloNews.