In the rain of Münster, one of the great sprinters of his generation pedalled toward the finish line, sat up, and applauded. André Greipel had just completed his final race, after a distinguished 19-year career.
The fairytale would have been for a win, but it didn’t turn out that way. The German finished 10th in his retirement ride. “It’s finished now”, Greipel reflected at the finish line, “but I did my maximum. There was nothing more in the legs today, so I’m happy now that this day has finished. Now I’ll try to continue thinking positively for the future, and see what happens.”
Greipel might be looking to the future, but he has a long string of highlights to look back on in his past. Across his long innings as a pro cyclist, Greipel has ridden 19 Grand Tours, picking up 22 stage wins – 11 at the Tour, seven at the Giro, four at the Vuelta. He retires with 158 wins to his credit, most of them in sprints.
His career has seen him rise as part of a crop of legendary sprinters – among them Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish – and decline as younger, hungrier and more versatile rivals have taken their place.
Greipel broke through to the pro ranks with T-Mobile, which morphed into HTC-Columbia. In his four years at this squad, he picked up his first Grand Tour stage wins and two Tour Down Under titles.
The friendly German then left for greener pastures at the team best known as Lotto-Soudal, where he rode from 2011-2018 and collected some of his most memorable victories – including back-to-back stage wins on the Champs Elysées.
A short, unsuccessful one year stint at Arkea-Samsic followed, before Greipel ended his career with a two year contract at Israel Start-Up Nation.
Over almost two decades as a pro, the big German was feared in the sprints but beloved by the public. Successful fast-men are often wired a particular way – brash, sometimes abrasive – and Greipel was neither.
Cycling loses a faded sprinter, but the peloton loses a friend.
Once upon a time, in the mid-2000s, there was a German with a dream. His name was André, and at the 2005 Rheinland Pfaltz Rundfahrt, he stood on a podium as winner of the sprint classification, riding for the continental Wiesenhof team. He was yet to take his first pro win, but that would change by the end of the year … … along with his hair, which I am lost for words to describe. “Hey André, how do you think that look will age?” Having shed the weight of his diamond studs, Greipel got the call-up to his first Grand Tour – the 2008 Giro d’Italia – where he took his biggest win to date on stage 17, finishing one position ahead of his teammate, a young up-and-comer called Mark Cavendish. Our intrepid hero was on a path to greatness. After winning the 2008 Rund um die Nurnberger Altstadt, his efforts were rewarded with a metre of beer … … which made him big and strong for an off-season cyclocross race in Frankfurt. By 2009, his Columbia-HTC leadout train was a thing of beauty and terror. At his first Vuelta a España, Greipel won four stages – this being the first. Four Columbia-HTC riders finished in the top seven that day. He backed it up in nicer conditions the next day, ahead of Belgium’s #1 Party Starter, Tom Boonen. (Excuse the blurriness of the picture, we are deep in the archives at this point.) By 2010, Greipel and a supple-faced Tony Martin were teammates. Martin at this point was yet to commit to a pro career – he was still a part-time cop – but, if you were a criminal, would you be afraid of that dreamy smile, those pristine blue eyes? You would not. (Like Greipel, Tony Martin has called the 2021 season his last. We’ve done a retrospective gallery over here.) At the 2011 Worlds in Copenhagen, it was a day for the sprinters … but not for Greipel. He finished third, behind an ascendant Mark Cavendish and Matthew Goss. In 2011, Greipel jumped ship to Omega Pharma Lotto. As you are about to learn, that is a team that was not shy about getting The Boys into some ridiculous promo shots. On which note, here’s Greipel on the bonnet of a Skoda Roomster, a car so unlovely that it was introduced and then discontinued from sale in Australia twice. Does the front half look like it was designed by a different team than the back? Yes. Do I know so much about Skoda Roomsters because I’m currently looking at one in my driveway? I’ll never tell. André Greipel and Jurgen van den Broeck cup the elbows of Philippe Gilbert, because who the hell knows. And now André Greipel cups the calf of Gilbert in the boot of a Skoda Octavia, a much less idiosyncratic vehicle. Jurgen van den Broeck keeps his hands to himself. This time. TO THE TOUR! Greipel’s first stage win at the race. The day after, Cavendish pipped him to the post. They had a lovely moment after the line, because André Greipel is nothing if not a gentle giant. And if Greipel is a gentle giant, just imagine how absolutely enormous this pen must be. Ergonomic nightmare. “Toot toot, all aboard.” Team Lotto-Belisol pounding the cereal and soy milk before Paris-Roubaix 2012. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (The metadata of this photo claims that he is wearing “the special shoes”, and I can’t really argue with that) I’ve said it before, but my god, the Cor Vos archives are a treasure. I think the novelty of these promo shots was starting to wear a bit thin, if Greipel’s cold dead eyes here is suggestive of anything. (Eiffel 65 pounds in the background) Greipel lets it all hang out at the 2013 team photos. He was looking a little less pleased with his lot at the 2013 Milan-San Remo, which turned the peloton into iceblocks … … but he was back in high spirits for the next round of team photos. Jens Debuscherre is on the back. At the 2015 Tour de France, Greipel was in fine form, picking up four stage wins and spending a stint in the green jersey. Here’s one of them, ahead of famous faces including Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and, of course, The Stavanger Stallion. Greipel won on the Champs Elysées too, a doting dad sharing some podium time with his daughters. André Greipel’s nickname, The Gorilla, was made into a motif on his bike at the 2016 Tour. On the Champs Elysées, Greipel backed it up again, just ahead of Peter Sagan who was doing his level best to rip his bike to pieces. Greipel was a force in the sprints, but he was pretty consistent in the cobbled classics too, with top 10 placings in Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. In 2017, he finished 20th at the Tour of Flanders. Greipel lines up Jurgen Roelandts’ face for a hearty slap at Paris-Roubaix 2017 … … oh phew, that’s a relief. They’re friends! I was a bit worried for a moment there. At the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Greipel won the second stage and was pretty in pink … … but his big goal of the season was the Tour de France. Here he is sharing some chuckles before the race with his compatriot Marcel Kittel. No wins for Greipel that year. :'( At a Lotto-Soudal team camp in late December, 2017 André Greipel was one of the more cheerful, optimistic riders in the peloton. Even in torrential rain at Paris-Nice, he showed up with a smile, first on the line and raring to go. He was particularly popular in Australia, where he won a staggering 18 stages at the Tour Down Under and twice picked up the ochre jersey as overall winner. Because of these facts, there is a rich visual archive of Greipel’s encounters with Australian fauna, including this time he was holding about two metres of ‘no thanks’. Greipel makes his way through a hellish hailstorm at the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné. At the 2020 Tour de France later that season, he was in his 10th participation at the race. The mountains were not his friend that year … … and Greipel would retire on stage 18. But he was back for one last Tour in 2021. On the second last day of this year’s Tour, Greipel announced he would be retiring by season’s end. He had a contemplative moment on the Champs Elysées one last time. His final race was the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, a one day race between Enschede and Münster in his homeland. His family was there for the big milestone. An emotional Greipel finished in 10th, riding solo across the line, applauding and applauded. Fittingly enough, his longtime nemesis and friend Mark Cavendish won the day, giving Greipel an affectionate greeting after he crossed the line. Danke, André.