We’ll hand out a bunch today for our Top Banana award.
Lotto-Soudal claimed their third stage win of the 2015 Tour - a fifth of those contested thus far - with André Greipel winning the sprint into Valence.
He is now a legitimate threat to Peter Sagan’s hopes of another green jersey. In current form, who would bet against Greipel winning on the Champs-Élysées?
Should the Gorilla raise his hulking arms on the most exclusive avenue in France, he would do so, if his victories on stages two, five and fifteen are a guide, as much from the result of his team’s efforts as his own.
It says much for Greipel, a gentleman on and off the bike by all accounts, that his first thought in today’s post-stage interview was to thank his team.
“The key factor today was suffering from kilometre zero to the end,” he said.
“The team supported me from kilometre zero, kept me out of the wind, even if it was really hard today. I’m really proud of my team and also of myself.”
Note Greipel’s order of merit: first the team, then himself.
Which leads us to the wider point of this particular Top Banana: that the men in red have enjoyed a season of overachievement. This is a column for unsung heroes. Lotto-Soudal fit the bill, despite their success.
For one of the peloton’s lesser funded teams (see Rouleur #55 for a peak inside their modest service course in Herentals) they have assembled a formidable outfit, ranging from grizzled veteran Adam Hansen to rising star Tiesj Benoot. Note the absence of superstars, though Greipel's stock is fast approaching its true value.
Tony Gallopin, a maillot jaune at last year’s Tour, showed on the Mur de Bretagne, and Thomas de Gendt has shown almost everywhere else, despite a crash on stage five that left him uncertain if he could continue.
Today’s win was achieved with one of the strongest diesels absent from the Lotto-Soudal sprint train. Greg Henderson suffered dreadfully in the pile-up on stage three, and was unable to start stage seven.
As long as Marcel Sieberg remains fit, however, Greipel will have a chance of victory on a flat finish, though Sieberg was not among the supporting cast today. Arguably the best of the peloton’s pilot fish, he offers the Gorilla unerring guidance, combining formidable power and tactical acumen with an almost telepathic understanding with his sprinter.
We live in an era of ‘super teams’: big budget outfits with rosters bulging with talent; so much so, in certain cases, that there is sufficient strength-in-depth to send different, first-rate squads to each of the Grand Tours, or to hire a posse of heavyweights simply for their services in Spring.
And here is the crux: while Lotto-Soudal’s lavishly funded Belgian neighbours Etixx-QuickStep have talent enough for the summer to leave Boonen, Terpstra, Alaphilippe et al at home during the Tour, their blue collar neighbours muster the best squad at their disposal and go out and stick it to the man. Three times now.
Chapeau, André Greipel. Chapeau, Lotto-Soudal. Bananas all round for another topping performance.