Chasing Le Tour: Greipel punches back

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When Mark Cavendish turned on the afterburners and convincingly won yesterday’s fifth stage into Marseille, there was no reason to suspect he wouldn’t do the same on today’s sixth stage. But instead it was André Greipel and his Lotto-Belisol leadout train who showed that Cav is beatable. Greg Henderson tells us how they did it.

Often when I ask someone from the sprinters’ teams how they plan on beating Mark Cavendish, I’m hoping for some sort of analysis of Cav’s weaknesses and how they’ll be exploited. If you’ve seen the ABC documentary about Anna Meares and how she beat Victoria Pendleton you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The answer I normally get is almost always disappointing though. It usually goes to the tune of “we’ll do the same thing we’ve always done and hope for the best”.

I spoke with Andre Greipel’s final lead-out man, Greg Henderson, after the stage today and asked him how they executed the final sprint and how they went about trying to beat Cavendish. It was refreshing to hear that there was a coordinated plan, a plan that seemed to work perfectly for the Lotto-Belisol sprint train.

Here’s what Hendo had to say:

“The thing about Cavendish is that whoever starts behind, will finish behind. Cav, Greipel and Kittel all have the same speed. If any of them get delivered at a high speed, they’re all super quick — it’s incredible. So the goal is not to start the sprint behind Cavendish. Nine and a half times out of ten you’ll finish behind him if you do. But that’s the same with Greipel, and that’s the same with Kittel.

I said to Greipel before the sprint, ‘If you need a jump, just lay off my wheel one bike length and kick into my slipstream.’ It was a hard sprint today and I said to him ‘I’m gonna have to go from 500m, and it’s slightly uphill with a little bit of a headwind. So just lay off my wheel before you accelarate. That’ll give you another 2km/hr on Cav before he starts his sprint’. That’s exactly what he did.

In the final straight I left an alley-way against the barriers with just enough room for him [Greipel]. A good sprinter knows not to ever come down the barriers. When Greipel came around me on the inside Cav knew he couldn’t follow there and had to go around the outside.”

When I asked how many watts these guys would have been pushing in those final 200m, Greg said, “Kittel pushes the most. He’s 93 kilos and pushes about 1900 watts. Greipel gets up to around 1800w. They can push that power after 200km, or just after a coffee shop ride. That’s what makes them so impressive.”

Thanks to Hendo for his refreshing insight and thanks to you for reading. Until tomorrow, check out some of our photos from stage 6 of the 2013 Tour de France.

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