Top sprinter Andre Greipel returns to the Aviva Tour of Britain this September for the first time since 2010. Brendan Gallagher caught up with him ahead of the race to find out why he was so keen to return to Britain’s biggest bike race, and his memories of his last appearance.

Its five years since Andre Greipel raced at the Tour of Britain and a lot of water has passed under the bridge during that time. Greipel has been in his pomp – he has for example claimed all ten of his Tour de France stage wins since we last saw him on British roads – but although he is now 33 he seems to be getting quicker year on year. Certainly he reigned supreme this year in the pure sprints at the Tour claiming four stage wins.

""There was also bronze medal in the World Championship road race in 2011 and it is this year's World Championships which have indirectly tempted him back to British shores. Nobody's quite sure – and World Championship races have a life of their own – but increasingly there seems a feeling that the World Championship Road Race course in Richmond might produce a sprint finish albeit from a much reduced group. 

Genuine shots at the rainbow jersey don't come around that often for the sprinters and Greipel like all the other ‘quicks’ wants to at least give himself a chance. He is one of those sprinters who on his day can survive a near Classics type course and be there at the end to contest the sprint and after recovering from his Tour de France labours his campaign begins in earnest at the Aviva Tour of Britain. 

"I am looking for a very tough intense block of racing – but not too long – and the Tour of Britain works perfectly for me," says Greipel. "I am interested in the World Championships and we have a strong German team with good possibilities for a number of riders so I was thinking how to prepare best.

"""I remember it as a hard race in 2010 and talking to other riders it seems the Tour of Britain has become an even harder race since then, which I welcome. Well this year anyway! The guys say that last year almost every day felt like a Classics day and that is probably what you need before a World Championships. A lot of riders seemed to come out of the Tour of Britain in very good form last year for the Worlds.

"Hopefully there will be a couple of sprint stages but good hard racing and riding is what I look forward to most of all. I see there are three stages well over 200km which is pretty tough in an eight day race so that is excellent preparation for Richmond.  

"In America for sure I don’t see a bunch sprint like Copenhagen in 2011 with Cav, Matt Goss and myself, but I do think it could come down to a sprint in a smaller group and it is possible that some of us recognised sprinters could be involved. We will see, you can look foolish trying to predict World Championships and we might get a completely different race but there are possibilities. My form this season has been good, the motivation is high but you must be in the right shape to have a chance."

""Back in 2010 Greipel was still with HTC Columbia and serial stage winner that he is, helped himself to three stage wins. In Blackpool on day one he held off Manuel Belletti and Greg Henderson in the group gallop and the had to get his head down for and get through some very rugged and testing stages in Wales and the South West before there was a chance for the sprinters to shine again.

The run from King's Lynn to Great Yarmouth on Stage Six always looked promising and so it proved with Greipel holding of Borut Bo?i? and Lucas Sebastián Haedo while the final day in London – this time on a circuit race at Newham because the Pope's visit made a central London finish impossible – saw him pip Haedo and Roger Hammond.

"I have strong memories of 2010. It was a very tough race with all sorts of weather, the rainy day through Wales and the finish in Swansea was very hard indeed. It wasn't an easy race for Highroad, we had injuries and illness, but in the end it was very successful. There was great spirit and morale among the team and it was my last race for them so I was determined to finish on a good note. Marco Pinotti got ill and had to abandon and Tony Martin also, which left us down to four riders. Despite that I had three wins and Michael Albasini was super strong that week and took a great win in GC. It was a good celebration at the end."

While at HTC Columbia he was inevitably going to be in internal competition with Mark Cavendish and just as having two world class GC riders in the same team rarely works, the same can said for having the world's two fastest sprinters in the same stable. It made for an occasionally  difficult time but since they have gone their own ways there has much mutual respect and admiration and the crowds will be hoping for a couple of full-on sprints from two of the biggest names in the sport at some stage during the Aviva Tour of Britain. 

Below – pictured in the German national champions kit at the start of the season.

""Greipel's success in his late 20s and early 30s also provides more evidence as to the longevity of some sprinters. Although there is always a new kid on the block looking to knock the big names off their perch many sprinters have remained at the top of their game into their mid and even late 30s. 

"I am a better all-rounder sprinter than I was ten years ago but that is to be expected surely,” reflects Greipel.  “As long as you train hard and stay fit that should be the progression. You learn all the time. You put yourself in a position to win more often and you find more ways of winning. 

“You recognise the races you are capable of winning and when it is worth digging deep but also you learn to admit that there are some stages or days when you cannot win and you must conserve energy for another day. There is a good tradition of sprinters winning big races a long way into their 30s and hopefully this can continue. 

"Perhaps the one sign of getting older is that I don't think I will ever be able to ride the Vuelta again if I have already ridden the Tour. I wouldn't have been ready to start the Vuelta this year, mentally more than physically.

"I did have a bit of a knee niggle that kept me off the bike for nearly a week straight after the Tour this year but that was a good thing I think. I was tired mentally. I had a very enjoyable and successful Tour but it is always hard work for a sprinter getting to Paris. For me the Vuelta was never really possible this year which is another reason the Tour of Britain is such a good option for me.”

Below – winning Stage Six in Great Yarmouth in 2010

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