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Andre Greipel: 'I always fall back on my instincts'

Peter Stuart
27 Mar 2020

German sprint legend André Greipel tells Cyclist about why he thinks there’s too much science in the sport

Before the coronavirus global pandemic led to the suspension of all cycle racing, we sat down with Andre Greipel for a wide-ranging Q&A

Cyclist: We heard that you were considering retirement back in June last year. Is that true?

André Greipel: Exactly, those were my thoughts when I pulled out of the Critérium du Dauphiné. I was ready to stop, but my family, my coach and everybody convinced me to continue. So for me, even doing the Tour de France last year was already a big success. Just being there and finishing in Paris meant a lot.

Cyc: What was your time like with French team Arkéa-Samsic? Did you find it odd to step down from the WorldTour to ProContinental at this point in your career?

AG: No, I was really really happy to get the challenge to move to ProConti status with Arkéa-Samsic. But it is just a status. It was quite a professional team, and it was really nice to get to know a different culture and learn a different language as well.

We had a lot of good races too, but the bacterial disease I suffered in the early season didn’t help. The riders gave their maximum and it didn’t work out. I just didn’t feel I could go a step further with that team.

I don’t want to end up looking back too much, so I’m just quite thankful that they let me out of the contract to work on a new project.

Cyc: Now you’ve moved to Israel Start-Up Nation, do you see your role as a stage winner or as a mentor for younger riders?

AG: I hope it’s going to be both. The confidence of the directors is there to give me the opportunities to go for sprints with a dedicated team around me. I have to say the talent is there to make that happen, so hopefully I will be in a good position to win races.

Cyc: A few days ago you visited the Holocaust museum as part of the training camp in Israel. How does if feel being a German on an Israeli team?

AG: I think as Germans we have to continually confront our past. Of course it is quite emotional when you go to the museum. Certainly, you don’t feel super-comfortable when you are a German, but you also have to reflect that we cannot change the past.

Cyc: You’ve been a pro cyclist for 15 years. What changes have you seen in the peloton during that time?

AG: It’s getting more and more scientific. Everybody is just thinking about numbers now. A lot of riders are not making their decisions any more, the team is mostly deciding everything.

Cyc: Do you think that has made the competition better, or has it led to races, and racers, being a little more boring?

AG: From my point of view, I think it’s quite important to listen to yourself when racing, to make your own decisions as well. So I try to form my own ideas and follow my own instincts, which are what I’ve always used.

I’m open-minded to new ways of working, but ultimately I always fall back on my instincts.

Cyc: Israel Start-Up Nation will be using bikes with disc brakes as standard. Are you worried about the transition from rim brakes?

AG: No, I actually like it. I’d say disc brakes offer more security. When you’re descending in 40°C heat you worry about the glue holding the tyres on the rim, and the possibility that too much braking will make the rim too hot and cause the tyre to separate. I always think about that.

The UCI minimum weight is out of date, so it’s not hard to get below 6.8kg with a disc brake bike. The thru-axle already offers more security and stiffness, so it really isn’t necessary to have a minimum weight any more anyway. I also find you can really feel more stiffness through the thru-axle when sprinting on disc bikes.

Cyc: Rumour has it you’ve been known to crack carbon frames during sprinting efforts. Is there any truth in that?

AG: Well, I’ve broken some chains, but I haven’t known a whole bike to crack during a sprint.

Cyc: What goes through your mind when you’re putting out 2,000 watts at the end of a race?

AG: At the end of the day you are just trying to push the pedals as hard as possible. But for sure when you come to a sprint after a long race, you don’t push 1,900 or 2,000 watts any more.

Maybe I can push 1,700 watts or so. In training you can do more because you don’t have to do such a big effort beforehand. But that was always my strength – I’m not as aero as everyone else, especially some of the sprinters at the moment.

Cyc: Is there any sprint from your career that you remember most fondly?

AG: There are a few good sprints that come to mind. Actually I know all of my sprints from memory – what happened in each one. If I had to pick one as my favourite it would be the first time I won on the Champs-Élysées. That’s because from the position I was in it seemed impossible to win. I think I came from eighth or ninth position on that final stretch and I still managed to win it.

When it comes down to sprinting on the Champs-Élysées, you’re trying to squeeze the last power out of your legs after three weeks of racing. I wasn’t thinking – I just tried my best.

Cyc: Were there any sprinters that you looked up to when you started out?

AG: There were a few good sprinters around. Alessandro Petacchi had a super-nice style. He looked so tight when he was sprinting. At the same time I wasn’t really interested in any one sprinter because I was concentrating more on my own progression.

Cyc: We keep hearing about pro cyclists becoming vegan. Is that something you’d consider?

AG: I have admiration for it but I couldn’t do it. I like food too much.

Palmarès

André Greipel 
Age: 37
Nationality: German 
Honours 
Tour de France: 11 stage wins, 2011-16
Giro d’Italia: 7 stage wins, 2008-17
Vuelta a España: 4 stage wins, Points Classification, 2009
National Road Race Championships: 1st, 2013, 2014, 2016