André Greipel’s finally announced he’s on his way to Belgian squad Omega Pharma – Lotto.
It’s one of those logical deals. Greipel has been feeling the squeeze on his team, he’s a top sprinter but has to play understudy to Mark Cavendish, only getting an invite to the races where the Briton is absent. This hasn’t stopped Greipel collecting 16 wins this season and he must be wondering what he could do in races like the Tour de France.
At the same time, Omega Pharma – Lotto are having a shocker of a season, I wrote about the drought in April and since then they’ve only won three times all season (Gilbert in the Amstel and the opening stage of the Tour of Belgium, plus Matthew Lloyd’s Giro KoM). As a result they sit in 84th place on Cycling Quotient’s team rankings, the ProTour team with the least wins by a long way. Footon-Servetto have six wins.
So the simple addition of Greipel would give them an imaginary 19 wins this year, making them sixth on the CQ table and the equal of Garmin-Transitions. But here’s where things start to go wrong.
First, Lotto has long been a mess of a team. Staff have old habits and when they recruited Cadel Evans, they didn’t do much more than pay him to ride. His personality was different but they made little effort to accommodate him and support him, despite his ability to win the Tour de France. So I fear Greipel goes from a totally controlled and professional environment like HTC-Columbia to the Belgian madhouse.
Second, where’s the lead-out? Self-sacrifice defines the HTC-Columbia team. Riders like Mark Renshaw develop as many watts as the top sprinters but prefer to dedicate themselves to the service of another rider. The likes of Mick Rogers worked for Cavendish’s sprint train whilst still nurturing GC hopes and even poor Adam Hansen was ordered to work when he broke his collarbone in the Tour’s opening stage. Greipel simply won’t get this service.
All in all, I think Greipel will win fewer races but the inevitable success in early season races will be the biggest benefit, it will take pressure off the team during the classics season. March and April see the Belgian media go beserk with the coverage of cycling and failures and faults aren’t just highlighted, they are rammed home.