• His goats keep him grounded... FDJ's Thibaut Pinot. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Despite their success, they prefer life away from the spotlight. They prefer the simple life because in order to understand themselves, they've had to find themself, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
11 May 2017 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 12 May 2017 - 12:14 AM

I've sat down with André Greipel for a one-on-one interview only once. But even if I hadn't, it's clear why he doesn't garner attention the way Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria do.

The spark in his sprint that, since 2008, has won him a stage in every Grand Tour he's contested, does not translate to the way he articulates himself. He lacks the charisma of those mentioned earlier, yet the lack of braggadocio is what makes him who he is, and is precisely the reason why I've grown to like him. Asked about his family, he told VeloNews' Andy Hood in a May 2010 interview: "My parents are just normal people. My father is a truck driver and my mother works in the hospital. I have a sister, she is three years older than me."

Once, he was asked why he liked the animals so much. Pinot replied, "Perhaps because I am one."

Listen to what his peers say and there isn't a bad word to be said about the big German from Rostock. Since 2011, when the demise of the High Road team brought him to his current set-up and outright leadership in the sprints, look at the way his team-mates have unfailingly ridden for him - even in 2015, when many pundits had written him off, only for the Gorilla to roar at Le Tour and claim four stage victories. His tally to date is 11 at the Tour, seven at the Giro, and four at the Vuelta. Notwithstanding a few acrimonious years with Cavendish at High Road, which in hindsight was completely understandable - "Once, I would like to be the no. 1 sprinter in the Tour," he told VeloNews in 2010; "In my opinion, if I get the same lead-out train, I can get the same results" - when he heard last month the Manxman had been diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, he sent him a text to wish him well.

Last Saturday, in the Sardinian town of Tortoli, when he triumphed on the second stage of the Giro, he said: "I dedicate this victory to all the people who are helpful to me and particularly to my mother who is having difficult times at the moment, but she's a fighter. We're all fighters." Greipel's mum has ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as motor neurone disease (MND).

Scientist Stephen Hawking is the best-known person diagnosed with the debilitating condition, which causes the death of neurons that control voluntary muscle movement. In 90-95 per cent of cases the cause is unknown, and 100 per cent of the time, there is no cure. According to peer-reviewed studies, average survival rates from onset to death is three to five years, most ceding to respiratory failure. Still, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS in 1963 and was expected to die in two years. He's still kicking.

Despite being very uncommon (in Europe and the United States the disease affects about two people per 100,000 every year), the famous 'ice bucket challenge' videos from 2014 brought the disease to the attention of many. Only this Tuesday, after a six-month clinical trial in Japan and for the first time in 22 years, it was announced the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug for ALS called Radicava. It is not a cure, say experts, but a step in the right direction. "ALS is truly a disease that takes away power, the power to move. It's a disease of loss. Every day is a little bit worse than the day before," Clay Ahrens, diagnosed three years ago, told CBS Minnesota. "This really does offer hope for a condition that otherwise has very little good news attached to it."

When he thinks of his mum, little wonder why Greipel finds sprinting at 70km/h in a peloton of 200 riders easy in comparison.

There's another guy who could think of himself as a superstar but through entirely his own conviction, stays firmly grounded: Thibaut Pinot. Ever since he won a mountain stage of the 2012 Tour to Porrentruy and became the youngest rider to finish in the top 10 on GC since 1947, the now 26 year-old from Mélisey, Haute-Saône, at the foot of the Vosges mountains, has been rated as the saviour to French cycling. Two years later, when he finished third alongside countryman Jean-Christophe Péraud with Vincenzo Nibali as its winner, also becoming the best young rider, the expectation was amped up again.

He could live tax-free in Monaco or Switzerland but instead continues to reside in the place he grew up, where amateur cyclists pass by to challenge themselves on the Planche des Belles Filles, which makes a return to the Tour this year. In 2015, on the land of his grandparents, he had a rustic weatherboard house built, where from the kitchen and living room, he watches over his prized goats. At 7:30 every morning he feeds them, then goes out to train. "It's always difficult to leave," he told Pierre Carrey from the Libération news outlet, but in order to contest the podium at this year's Giro, where he goes in as a dark horse, it's something he's willing to do. Each morning before the stage begins, however, he'll call his dad, making sure they're fed.

'Once, he was asked why he liked the animals so much. Pinot replied, "Perhaps because I am one".' Jean-Pierre Douçot, the sport director of CC Etupes from days as an amateur, said of him: "Pinot resembles animals. He moves his eyes very quickly in all directions. He analyses, he observes, he's wary. He has the intelligence of the earth and of the seasons. He knows the rhythm of time, the value of effort, the price of men and things."

'Seven years after his debut,' wrote Carrey, 'Thibaut Pinot is one of the few great cyclists who are truly happy. The kind of people who are said to have "not changed," which is impossible. We mean that he has not broken with his origins, nor faked what he has become.'

'Il a réduit sa vie au strict nécessaire.' He's reduced his life to what is only necessary.

There's something in that, don't you think?