Prolific pure sprinter Andre Greipel cut a lonely figure without the company of his usual marquee rivals at Paris-Roubaix yesterday.
With the exception of maybe Garmin-Sharp's Tyler Farrar, rouleurs and fast-men suited to harder terrain headlined or made-up most teams.
Greipel skipped last week's Scheldeprijs in what was a surprise move given the event is typically decided in a bunch sprint, as was the case on Wednesday with Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) taking the honours. Compatriot Kittel, in contrast, has virtually given the classics a miss to focus intently on stage races and wins this year.
"It's a personal thing I would say but I keep it for me," Greipel said of his omission before the start of the Hell of the North.
"I think it's an important race for the team and others also have a chance to go for Scheldeprijs. It's always a messy sprint. It's more safe for me to start in good condition in Paris-Roubaix."
The four-time Tour de France stage winner, as at the Tour of Flanders, was active early in the race working for teammate Jurgen Roelandts. Greipel at one point attempted to bridge across to a four-man break, sitting in no-man's land before being caught on the approach to the infamous Arenberg forest.
Roelandts is an integral part of Greipel's sprint train and is committed to assisting his German teammate in flat stage finishes. Greipel has been happy to return the favour still alongside chief pilot Greg Henderson and some of his other lead-out men.
"I think he deserves it. He's in top condition for the moment and I think for him it's possible to go on the podium," Greipel said.
Lotto-Belisol has demonstrated exemplary teamwork throughout the cobble classics, especially at Flanders where Roelandts finished third.
"He proved it before and I just need to try my best to support him for this," Greipel continued. "If I can support him I will be also in front."
Roelandts was sidelined early last season following a high-speed crash at the Tour Down Under where he fractured his sixth cervical vertebra. The 27-year-old entered Roubaix as a genuine podium contender on the weekend but punctured at the wrong time to finish 43rd and three minutes and 29 seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard).
Greipel, who also had mechanical issues, came in 10 minutes and 27 seconds down in what was his third Roubaix. The 30-year-old never competed at the event with his former Highroad team.
"The Tour of Flanders is different with the climbs with the cobblestones but this is flat. This is okay and it can help him 100 per cent," said sports director Herman Frison.
Greipel is not set to compete at May's Giro d'Italia with the Tour of Belgium an objective for his Belgian-based squad.
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