• Andre Greipel's rivalry with Mark Cavendish dates back to their days at the Highroad team - with Cavendish currently in the ascendant. (AAP)Source: AAP
Andre Greipel must rediscover his confidence to defeat current best-on-ground Mark Cavendish at the Tour de France, according to Lotto Soudal manager Marc Sergeant.
Sophie Smith

18 Jul 2016 - 10:40 AM  UPDATED 18 Jul 2016 - 4:21 PM

The German sprinter was the toast of the Tour last season, topping the tally with four stage victories in a career-best performance. However, the 103rd edition this month has marked an almost-180-degree turn in the big sprinter's fortunes.

Greipel has so far figured in just one bunch sprint, finishing second to Cavendish on stage three in Angers, with opportunities for success running out.

Stage 16 on Monday appears relatively flat on paper, however, Sergeant believes the first and only categorised climb within the final 30km will thin out the field and favour puncheurs. That may leave Greipel with just Paris to fight it out.

“I know the [category four] climb and it’s not an easy one so I think [Peter] Sagan is the big favourite for tomorrow,” Sergeant said on Sunday morning.

The c-word – confidence – has been perhaps as critical for Greipel at this year's Tour as it was last season. According to some accounts, it is something the 34-year-old grapples with even now. Last year, Greipel won the opening flat stage of the Tour and the resulting boost carried him through to line honours on the Champs Elysees.

“He is struggling a little bit with himself, I think. He built up his confidence last year in the first stage by winning it. He isn’t there for the moment; he’s hesitating a little bit,” Sergeant said.

“We said quite firmly that we have to come late [in Stage 14 on Saturday] because it was a headwind. I know how it goes, they were a bit nervous and at the end just before 1km they saw the gap, they went and it was too soon. He hesitated a little bit and then they came over and it was already done with 300m to go.

“His shape is good but … he [has] said, ‘I do everything wrong, if I have to go left I go right, I don’t know why,’ but that’s confidence.”

Sergeant said the solution was now just to give the 'gentleman' sprinter as much assurance as possible through the Alps to Paris. Greipel possibly could have won five stages at the Tour last season but in stage seven opted not shut the door on Cavendish, who claimed line honours.

In contrast, Cavendish carries confidence in spades this year. After a lacklustre run last season by his standard, he has rediscovered his mojo with new team Dimension Data. Whereas Sergeant has said stage 16 may be too difficult for the pure sprinters, the Manxman did earmark it following his triumph on Saturday.

Greipel, it should be noted, has climbed well this Tour. He also finished eighth behind Sagan (Tinkoff), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and a host of notable opportunists on stage 11 to Montpellier.

Greipel may be more hesitant this year but it’s not the primary difference in performance compared to last year, with Sergeant giving consideration to the competition.

“I have to admit that last year he [Greipel] was definitely the best sprinter,” he said. “Now it’s quite clear that Cavendish is the best sprinter in this Tour. He is always sitting in a good wheel and coming out straight away so, for me, he’s quite unbeatable at this moment if he’s well placed.”