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Greipel's sprinting technique is an art form
Phil Anderson
17:00 AEST Fri Jan 25 2013

Phil Anderson OAM
Phil Anderson was Australia's first cyclist to ever pull on the Tour de France yellow jersey after a stage win, and he joins the Wide World of Sports website for our coverage of the 2013 Tour Down Under.
Phil Anderson

Andre Greipel's win on Stage 4 in Tanunda saw him surpass Robbie McEwen's record for most stage wins at the Tour Down Under.

Greipel now holds the record of 13 stages won at the Australian World Tour event and is odds-on to make it 14 wins on the last stage in Adelaide on Sunday.

The man they call 'The Gorilla' again showed that he can just ride away from everyone at the finish and he really is in a class above this field at the Tour Down Under. When Greipel accelerates he puts bike lengths on his opposition and the path to the line is uncontested.

You're either a born a sprinter or you're not. You can train for it, to an extent, be prepared for the contest but genetically you need fast twitch muscle fibres. The likes of Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Graeme Brown, Matt Goss and Robbie McEwen all fall into this category. Sprinters usually can't climb and climbers usually can't sprint. Here at the TDU the climbs just aren't severe enough to drop these boys and their teams carry them forward after each of the hills to regroup for the final contest. Climbers work on totally different muscle groups than sprinters, while a good general classification rider is pretty good at both. It's a matter of balance and here at the Tour Down Under, given the course layout, the final winner can be either a sprinter or a GC rider but generally not a pure climber.

Sprinters are experts in judging the distance from where they are on the course to the finish line, and a good sprinter knows just about how many pedal strokes he needs to get to the line within that last kilometre. There are of course markers on the road at 10km, 5km, 1km, these are generally used by the lead-out team as they position for the final turns but a lot of it comes down to pure instinct. Sprinters are a special breed.

The Lotto-Belisol team, including the powerful lead-out train of Greg Henderson, Adam Hanson and Jurgen Roelandts, keep Greipel fresh during the stage by protecting him from the wind all day. As the breakaway was gathered up, with tail winds and high speeds the teams started jostling early for a position towards the front of the peloton. Teams that revolve around strong sprinters do, from time to time, train in formation. On race day Greipel is so used to the dynamic that unfolds as he sits in the slipstream of his team, there is nothing to think about until he has to apply power to the pedals at the crucial point.

As the road train powers towards the line, each lead-out rider peels off at a point when he has reached his maximum speed, bearing in mind the distance to the line and how many teammates are left. The idea is to deliver their sprinter to the last 200m and then with the job done, they wait for the contest. The lead-out riders keep the speed high, the point of this is twofold. They want to control the pace but they are also seeking to prevent other teams from attacking or jumping on the front. If the speed is 60km/h (which is still very fast) the other teams may think they can go faster. Lifting the tempo to 65km/h, despite the effort, eliminates attacks from other teams with sprint contenders. This is where you will see the team colours strung out in single file with the sprinter tucked in behind, but across the road the drive to the line is coming from a multitude of teams, all seeking to achieve the same goal.

Greipel's team is clearly the strongest in this final altercation though it would be difficult to say if Greipel would be as explosive at the end without all of that assistance from his teammates.

At that crucial point of the sprint when he steps out from second wheel to put his nose in the wind Greipel would already be doing about 60-65km/h but when he accelerates he adds a further 10km/h on top of that. In those initial six explosive pedal strokes he is putting out huge wattage, in excess of 2000 watts per pedal stroke, which gets him from 65km/h up to around 75km/h. This explosive power gives him an acceleration that establishes the winning gap 100 metres before the line. The other riders are just playing catch up.

There was no change at the top of the general classification after Stage 4 with Sky's Geraint Thomas still wearing the ochre jersey going to Old Willunga Hill on Stage 5.

Blanco's Tom Slagter is five seconds behind Thomas with Movistar's Javier Moreno at six seconds and Radioshack Leopard's Ben Hermans at eight seconds. Those four guys are the main contenders for overall victory now and those teams will be trying to control the peloton to help their main men. If there is to be a challenge it will come from the ranks of these teams but Sky is most unlikely to allow this to occur. They will control and dominate any such attempts and they have the horsepower to do it.

There may be some early attacks on Stage 5 but as long as they aren't threatening the general classification the main peloton may not chase and you could see the young guns trying to steal the show. The peloton will not allow more than a manageable gap at the beginning of the stage and they will want to pull it all together ahead of the big climbs.

It should be quite a strategic stage on Old Willunga Hill as it is the last chance for riders to improve their GC position, with the last stage traditionally a sprint finish in Adelaide. Realistically the overall standings won't change but it could be a grand spectacle with the teams who have not had such a good tour seeking to redeem themselves on the penultimate stage.

Phil Anderson is a Skoda Ambassador at the Tour Down Under


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