André Greipel: WorldTour relegation system 'totally bulls**t'

The former pro cyclist talks UCI points, watching cycling as a fan, and the lack of sprint opportunities at the Tour de France

André Greipel
(Image credit: Getty Images)

André Greipel must be relieved to not be on the books of Israel-Premier Tech, his final team of his lengthy professional career, this year. The same goes for Lotto-Soudal, the squad where he spent eight seasons. This is not because he is tired of cycling - he still loves it - or because he doesn't have the form, but because of the pressures on this pair of teams in 2022.

Both are involved in a relegation scrap as WorldTour licences come up for renewal and face the prospect of dropping down to the ProTeam level where spots at the top races are not guaranteed. As this article was published, both Israel and Lotto remain in the red zone, hunting for UCI points in an attempt to secure their future in the WorldTour.

"I think this whole points system is totally bulls**t because you have teams who have been in cycling for 20, 30 years, investing in cycling," the German tells Cycling Weekly

"It's just unfair to put them in a situation like this. Also Lotto makes a lot of events in Belgium. It's just not nice to see a team like this battling for something like this."

With his 158 career wins over 1319 race days - a win every eight races - one imagines that none of his former teams (which also include Arkéa-Samsic, one of the teams hunting for promotion) would be in trouble if they still had a fully fit "Gorilla" on their books.

He adds: "When you're still trying to get the points now you did something wrong, because it's three years and the mistake happened already."

Unlike other former top level professionals, notably Bernard Hinault, Greipel has not shied away from riding his bike in his retirement years. In fact, he seems to revel in the activity; he is speaking to Cycling Weekly at the first Global Bike Festival, where he seemed to enjoy the cycling as much as anyone. 

At one point, he cycled past this author on an 8% climb using one leg, and looked to be happy with the attention from those fans who were allowed to meet their legend at close quarters.

"I really enjoy it," he says. "Performance sport is behind me, so now I'm just doing what I really love. I've never had the possibility to enjoy events like this, so I'm just enjoying being a part of it.

"I actually have to calm myself down, because I just enjoy riding my bike," he explains. "It's a lifestyle for me. When I ride now, a bit too much. I already start to feel that my condition is getting too good. So I have to really pace myself.

Despite still being close to the level he was at in his final year as a professional, Greipel does not sound like he misses the top-level sport he was so successful in.

"When you have already a bit distance from the sport, it's easier because I wake up in my bed every weekend," he explains. "I'm just proud of what I achieved. Now I just keep going, living the lifestyle of bike riding. Being at events like this also shows me how beautiful the sport is. 

"I try to do the half like a normal bike week that I did in my professional life," he says. "Just to keep my heart fit. It's important because I don't want to be suffering with heart problems at the end of my life."

André Greipel wins stage four of the Ruta del Sol 2021

André Greipel wins the last race of his career last year

(Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Greipel might not be tired of cycling the activity, and he isn't bored of professional cycling the sport either, just not participating. He's one of us now.

"I'm watching cycling now as a fan," he explains. "I have the distance already.  Last year I was still in the mix in the sprints, but I'm totally fine with it. It was my decision to stop because I still had a contract this year, but I was just fine with stopping last year."

He will go to the Tour de France, the first time since 2010 that he won't be racing it. This time, he will be there as a fan. Not even a VIP, in the village at the start or the finish; no free champagne for the 158-time winner.

Instead, he will take the ferry across to Copenhagen from north Germany for the Grand Départ with his family, where he will watch from the roadside. As he succinctly puts it: "I will be going to Copenhagen because it's a beautiful city, and we're going to watch the race from the fence."

Cycling has come a long way from the HTC Highroad days of the late 00s when Greipel was first racking up win upon win. At the Giro d'Italia, Mathieu van der Poel succeeded on seemingly all terrain, while at last year's Tour Wout van Aert won on Mont Ventoux and in a time trial before out-sprinting the best on the Champs-Élysées.

"The races are getting harder, always kind of hilly days as well," he says. "Somehow you need to be a good climber to get over the hills. I think the climbs are just getting faster and faster and the race is getting faster and faster. It's just hard sometimes to get the sprinters there. It's hard for people in my weight group."

The favourites for the green jersey are no longer pure fast men, like himself or Mark Cavendish, but all-rounders like Van Aert. This is reinforced by a Tour that does not have many flat days for bunch sprints.

"From what I have seen, there are not so many opportunities, especially when you see the beginning of the Tour," Greipel explains. "Okay, it's flat, but you have a lot of small roads, and wind. Then the Roubaix stage. It's going to be super interesting, but there are not as many opportunities like before."

Not that this matters to Greipel, he will be on the roadside with thousands of others, cheering them on. He's happy in retirement.

André Greipel was speaking to Cycling Weekly at the inaugural Global Bike Festival in Saalbach, Austria, where he hosted a number of group rides and talks about his stories career for hundreds of cycling fans. The festival was created by Play Sports Network to bring road, gravel and mountain bike riders together for four days of talks, skills sessions, rides and interactive events with iconic riders and brands. Ticket sales for 2023 will be announced in due course.

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