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ANTALYA, Turkey — The “Gorilla” has been caged for the first two sprint stages of the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. Not only has Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) failed to crack the podium, a day after finishing fifth on stage 1, the reigning two-time German national road race champion fell short of the top 20 on stage 2 with heated rival Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) claiming both in dominant fashion.
Greipel recorded 16 wins last season — the most of any international male professional cyclist — but has just two in 2015, compared to the six he had at this time last year.
However, those six wins — two from the Santos Tour Down Under, one from the Tour of Qatar, and three from the Tour of Oman — were recorded in early-season races that Greipel skipped this year in order to start later in the season to ensure better form for the classics in March and April.
After the 32-year-old from Rostock took a stage win at Volta ao Algarve, he took his second (and last) win of the season on stage 2 at Paris-Nice — a race he failed to finish four days later.
From there, Greipel finished 47th at Milano-Sanremo, 15th at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and 28th at Paris-Roubaix, with a DNF at Gent-Wevelgem in between.
In Turkey, following an eighth-place finish on stage 1 and a 21st on stage 2, Greipel could be feeling the pressure — but he insists he is not.
“For me, it’s just a race to build up for the Giro d’Italia,” Greipel told VeloNews. “I’m not in top condition yet, but it’s not the aim now to be in top condition.
“The condition cannot be all gone from the classics, we have a good team here for the sprints, so sprinting is always possible with whatever condition you have.”
The 12-time grand tour stage winner has registered multiple wins in each, including two stage wins at the Giro, four at the Vuelta a España, and six at the Tour de France.
“What can I say, we had another target this year, so we tried to prepare the season a bit differently and that forced me to miss Australia,” said the all-time leader in Tour Down Under stage wins (16), who missed the race for the first time in eight years in January. “We tried to do good in the classics and the team worked quite well.
“Now we want a stage at the Giro and a stage at the Tour.”
While Greipel contends that the Lotto train’s timetable is right on schedule, he showed visible frustration following the bunch sprint finale on Sunday, and apparently had words for Cavendish afterwards.
“He said, ‘hold your line’ … but I don’t think I did anything,” Cavendish told media in the post-race presser. “I know from first-hand experience that your emotions can get to you after a race — especially this tense and dangerous in the final — and you want to take your frustrations out on someone.”
Greipel confirmed there was no friction between he and Cavendish prior to stage 2, and even sent a congratulatory tweet to both the former world champion and his Etixx-Quick-Step teammates.
— Andre Greipel (@AndreGreipel) April 26, 2015
“At the end it’s sprinting and I was just boxed in,” said Greipel. “I was just about to pass [Sacha] Modolo and I found myself on the fence, which is why I was a bit frustrated.
“I think I was still in a good spot and was about to get a good result, but it just didn’t work out — but we still have a lot of racing left and I’m confident in myself and my team we will reach our goals.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.