Omega Pharma-Lotto sprinter André Greipel has described his victory in today’s Stage 10 of the Tour de France as “the biggest moment of my cycling career” and has paid tribute to former team mate Mark Cavendish, whom he beat by the width of a wheel in Carmaux today.
With Cavendish getting the Tour de France selection for HTC-Highroad over the past three years, Greipel has had to wait until four days shy of his 29th birthday to get his maiden stage win in what is his first participation in the race.
“When I crossed the line I was just really happy,” said Greipel, who had been beaten by Cavendish in Chateauroux on Friday after going a little too early. Today, he came out of his former team mate’s slipstream and timed his run to the line perfectly.
In the run-up to last year’s Tour de France, Greipel insisted that he was in better form than Cavendish, who was recovering from illness, and should be given a chance in cycling’s biggest race. In the end of course, Cavendish was chosen and picked up five stage wins, going on to add the green jersey in the Vuelta which Greipel had won the previous year.
The German, on the other hand, rode the Giro d’Italia and picked up a solitary stage win. He would end the win with more victories than Cavendish – 21 to 11 – although the latter’s haul included five stages in the Tour de France and three in the Vuelta.
“It was a big success for me just to be able to take part in this race,” reflected Greipel after his victory today.
“I’m really happy to have found a team that I could ride for in the Tour de France. Of course I had my own ambitions here and I tried to win a stage and now I’ve managed that. I wanted to show myself and prove that I can be competitive in this race. I’m really happy to do that.
Greipel, born in the same former East German city of Rostock as 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, added that he could understand the decision that his former management had taken when selecting the team for the Tour de France.
“Of course it was always a hard decision that the sport directors [at my old team] had to make about selection and the success of Mark Cavendish is incredible – he’s won 17 stage of the Tour de France – and this sort of record gave the sport directors and him the right to make the selection.
“That’s why it’s been hard for me in the past to get in to do this race. I’m grateful to Omega Pharma-Lotto for giving me a chance and I’m happy that I could win for this team.”
Somewhat bizarrely, Greipel isn’t the only Omega Pharma Lotto rider to have enjoyed his first Tour de France stage win just a few days before his 29th birthday – Philippe Gilbert did so on Stage 1 ahead of his birthday last Tuesday.
Gilbert won the Belgian national championship for the first time a week before the Tour began, but he’s scarcely had a chance to wear his national champion’s jersey.
His win on Stage 1 put him into the maillot jaune for a day, and since then he’s also worn the polka dot jersey on one stage, as well as swapping the green jersey several times with Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas.
The Belgian currently leads the Spaniard by 17 points, although third-placed Cavendish reduced the gap on both his rivals today through being the first rider in the main peloton through today’s intermediate sprint and his finishing second to Greipel.
"This victory [by Greipel] is a victory for the team,” insisted Gilbert afterwards, thinking back to Sunday’s Stage 9 that saw fellow Omega Pharma Lotto riders Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Frederik Willems crash out. Jurgen Van De Walle had abandoned during Stage 4.
“We only have six from our team left in the race, but we are still capable of doing good things,” Gilbert continued. “We planned to make the race hard on the final ascent. It was not very steep, but we really climbed it quickly.”
Mallot jaune Thomas Voeckler attacked at the top of that climb, and Gilbert was one of four riders to go with the Frenchman. He also appeared to try and go it alone himself inside the closing ten kilometres, but wasn’t able to shake off the chasing peloton.
“When I found myself alone, it wasn’t necessarily because I attacked, it just that the others didn’t follow me,” he explained.
“In the end, it became very difficult because there was still a climb near the finish and I could not hold on to my advantage. I went back in the peloton, and immediatley took the wheel of Greipel so no other sprinter could get in his wake. Finally he managed to win, it is very beautiful. He really wanted this win!"
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