Like every professional rider, André Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) has started each of his 17 new seasons with a series of hopes and expectations, some clear and others less so, as well as an unspoken, second mental list of possible injuries bad luck, and illnesses, that he will be all too happy to avoid for the next 12 months.
This year Greipel’s starting out in a much simpler way: most of all he’s simply feeling fortunate, as he thinks all professional bike riders should be right now. And his only goal, he says, is equally simple: “Enjoy riding the bike. That’s my bucket list, my big wish for 2021.”
There is one straightforward reason why Greipel is counting his blessings particularly assiduously this year.
“Being able to travel when not everybody is allowed to do that. It’s a privilege bike riders need to appreciate they have,” he told Cyclingnews while on training camp in Spain.
“But it’s good, because in this training camp, everybody seems to understand how privileged we are, just to be able to travel to get here.”
As for the racing that justifies that travelling, Greipel emphasises that he has no specific aims in 2021, other than to continue as a professional bike rider.
“Just to be a professional bike rider and part of a team that’s pretty ambitious and and which wants to perform on the highest level,” he said of his goals.
“It’s nice to be part of it, and it comes down to sprint trains and lead-outs and I can help the team out, even if I’m at the back of the lead-out train, I can still be supporting somebody else.”
38-year-old Greipel is by far the most successful sprinter in the team, and the data numbers in his power output remain “as good as they were 10 years ago”.
Israel Start-Up Nation have a broad stable of options for flat stages, week-long events, and tough one-day races. Amongst them, Hugo Hofstetter was the winner of Le Samyn last year, David Cimolai took the overall in the Spanish stage race of Castilla y Leon two years back and Rudy Barbier claimed the opening leg of the Vuelta a San Juan last year.
There’s also his teammate Rik Zabel. Greipel is one of the last remaining pros in the peloton who not only sprinted with the young German, but also against his father, Erik, between 2005-2008, when the multiple Milano-San Remo winner was in his twilight years but still winning stages of the Vuelta a España and getting medals in the World Championships.
“At first it was strange, because Erik retired and Rik came in, but Rik has exactly the same pedaling style as his Dad,” Greipel pointed out with a smile.
“But when it comes down to character they are completely different. Rik is also my training partner and it’s also nice to work with somebody so dedicated to giving their best in the teammates.”
At Israel Start-Up Nation, Greipel considers himself as a father figure, there to share his experience and advice. But that’s doesn’t rule out what he calls “fighting together for a win,” and it’s worth remembering that in his 16-year career, 2020 was the only one where he did not take at least one win.
“It’s important to share experience and that’s why we are not only working on lead-out trains, we also have to talk about it, too,” he argues. “If everybody is involved then for sure we improve.”
While personally regretting that the Santos Tour Down Under could no longer take place – Greipel has the record there for stage wins at 18 – he argues that the key question for Israel’s sprinters is that they remain united on their race program, in order to perfect their sprint tactics.
“If we want to create a lead-out train, as long as we travel together, it doesn’t matter which races these are,” Greipel argues.
“For the moment I have Valencia and the UAE Tour planned. I’m also hoping to take part in the Classics, I would love to be a loyal teammate and help [Sep] Vanmarcke there to get some results.”
And a Grand Tour?
“For now the Giro is a goal,” Greipel said. The main aim for 2021, he repeats, is “to live and enjoy my childhood dream of being a racer. Because if you have that, everything else will happen by itself.”