With four wins in three races already this season, the latest coming at the opening stage of the Tour of Oman, Andre Greipel and his Lotto-Belisol sprint train have laid down an important early season marker.
The Belgian squad rode a perfect finale at the end of the opening stage in Oman, pacing the German back to main field as he fell behind in a crosswind section towards the end of the 164.5km stage.
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Patience is a virtue into a headwind finish, and over the final few kilometres to Naseem Gardens just outside Muscat, Lotto bided their time, waiting until Quickstep toiled in the breeze and seizing on a small gap opening to the right.
“We felt at the end we would have a headwind so we waited a little bit and Tony Gallopin did a really good job, keeping us near the front but in fifth or sixth position, out of the wind,” final leadout man Jurgen Roelandts explained to CW at the end of the stage.
“I think Quickstep started their leadout but it was hard [for them] to keep going into the headwind,” Roelandts added. “With 900m to go [Marcel] Sieberg started from the back and then we hit the front with 800m to go and it was just me and Greipel to the finish.”
“It was a bit of luck, we could have passed them on the left but on the right we had some shelter,” added Greipel. “I think Sieberg went from 20th wheel to the front and the speed was really high. I had to jump early but I did a good sprint to hold them [Quickstep] off.
“That’s cycling, otherwise we play chess, as I always say. I trust my guys 100%; everybody knows what they have to do.”
Unlike the high profile arrivals of Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi to Omega Pharma-Quickstep in the last six months, the core of Greipel’s entourage has remained largely untouched for the third season running.
“Never change a winning team,” Lars Ytting Bak added. “I think already now Andre has won four races, and we’ve proved already in the last three years that it is a winning train. You don’t have to change it.”
Neither Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) or Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) – Greipel’s two main sprint rivals – are present in Oman but the Gorilla believes he and his team will be able to up their game even further when they do come head to head.
“Greg Henderson is out injured, but even without him we’re working pretty well together. When he is back I think we will be even stronger,” he said.
Andre Greipel wins Tour of Oman stage one