• Making it look easy again... André Greipel wins the opening stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Following a season of sprinting he'd rather forget, André Greipel has reverted to what worked in the past, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
17 Jan 2018 - 7:46 AM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2018 - 9:17 AM

Victory salute aside, he shows the same sort of emotion whether you ask him about the bubonic plague as his most recent WorldTour win.

That's André Greipel. That's how he is. For him, "nice" could be anything from describing his Uber driver who took him to Hamburg airport to notching his seventeenth victory at the Santos Tour Down Under, a feat he accomplished Tuesday in Lyndoch.

"It's a nice one," he said, moments after slipstreaming off the wheel of Mitchelton-Scott's Caleb Ewan to take the opening stage of the first WorldTour race of the season - despite saying days earlier "I think it is not possible" to slingshot off his diminutive sprint adversary. "It was a pretty fast sprint but I could wait as long as I wanted. It's nice to be back here this way after a few years of absence."

"I was sure that I would eventually get back to winning."

The "absence" he refers to is not because he got sick of coming to South Australia. Quite the contrary, for he told us many years ago that the Tour Down Under was "where I found myself". It was January 23, 2008, almost a decade ago to this day, when the then 25-year-old overcame Graeme Brown and Allan Davis to win his first stage of the race from Stirling to Hahndorf, and the fourth win of his fledgling career.

January 16, 2018 was victory #146.

It was from 2015-17 that Greipel eschewed flying to Adelaide and instead rode a couple of one-day races in Spain before the Volta ao Algarve, almost a month later than the TDU. The idea was to try for a slower build-up to ride the Spring Classics, which he's taken a real liking to in recent years. He's still the only top sprinter who shows as much vigour and commitment to these races as winning stages at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, finishing a career-best seventh place in the Roubaix velodrome last year.

Whether the pounding pavé of Roubaix was responsible for losing his mojo in bunch sprints is hard to say. A month after that race he won the second stage of the Giro, was winless at the Tour (the first time since 2008 he hadn't won a stage in every Grand Tour he'd contested), and took only one more victory at the Omloop Eurometropool on September 30, beating Bert Van Lerberghe (Cofidis) and Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)...

Who did you say?

A month and a half earlier, at the WorldTour-ranked BinckBank Tour (previously the Eneco Tour), where his best result was ninth place in a sprint finish, Greipel admitted things had gone awry. "As you can see, the team continues to believe in me, but it's as if I've lost all my instincts to make the right decisions," he told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that week.

"I've completely lost my instinct on the bike."

Geez, Louise, talk about an admission of guilt!

"It's frustrating. For us, but especially for him. It's just not working," Herman Frison, his Lotto-Soudal directeur-sportif, lamented.

"André will have to flick the switch himself."

The Omloop Eurometropool win would normally not have been a big deal, if at all, but after the season he endured it was nothing less than that. "This victory is a relief for me," he said the day he won. "Although I won my two previous sprints, these were not for the win. I always tried to keep calm, but that's not easy when you don't win.

"I felt that the confidence between the team and me was still intact and I was sure that I would eventually get back to winning."

For once he didn't say "it was nice"!

Sunday in Adelaide, he banged his bars in frustration when triple world road champ Peter Sagan got the better of him at the People's Choice Classic. But unlike the funk he found himself in last July, he knew the instinct and speed were still there. "I was disappointed after my second place, but on the other hand it also gave me the feeling that it would be possible to win a stage this week," he said.

Forty-eight hours later, he turned that around.

Greipel makes it 17 at the Tour Down Under
Andre Greipel logged his 17th Santos Tour Down Under career stage win at the end of the 145-kilometre race opener to Lyndoch.

"Instinctively, I chose a wheel and that turned out to be the perfect position to start the sprint. I got out of the wheel of Caleb Ewan pretty smoothly and won quite easily.

"It's nice when you're 35 and everyone tells you, 'You will get slower (with age)'. But I don't feel it and I (still) really like to race my bike.

“In the past I often set good results at Tour Down Under and that was the start of a good season; I hope that is the case this year too."

It looks like we might have to put up with Mr. Nice Guy for a while yet.