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Greipel's Greatest Day?

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Today Andre Greipel lost a race, and may have sealed the finest accomplishment of his career: the Vuelta points competition. At this juncture, adding today's 16 points, the Columbian (not Colombian) sprinter has a comfy 40-point lead on fellow finisher Danny Bennati, and 41 on maillo oro Alejandro Valverde. Now, Valverde has a good 50 points in the offing over the next two stages, but for reasons discussed earlier (last time I had a free second to post, amidst even more travels), Valv isn't likely to get maximum points either day, and would need to finish first and second to take the lead. That unlikely scenario still leaves him dead meat for the final sprint to Madrid, where Greipel will salt away his points victory. And all this after being docked 25 points for a late gruppetto finish...

So is the Green Jersey his greatest ever accomplishment? Not according to Cycling Quotient (or presumably the Pro Tour) -- that would be his win in the Tour Down Under in 2008. Subjectively speaking, though, this would be tops in my book. His biggest one-day win is the Philadelphia International Classic, and the TdU is his only stage race GC victory of note; after that it's all stage wins. So, is the Vuelta points jersey > the TdU yellow? When it comes with four stage wins, I say yes. The Vuelta is the biggest stage he's ever performed on with any success, and it's not his fault that the Vuelta has mountains while the TdU does not. It's a Grand Tour, and he's been terrific.

Next, is Greipel the sprinters' Levi Leipheimer? He's one of the best at what he does, but he chooses to live in the shadow of a teammate who is the undisputed #1. [In Cavendish's book, it's clear that this partnership was anything but at first, but at this stage Greipel seems to have accepted the prevailing order in an atmosphere of mutual respect.] Last I checked he isn't joining the HTC exodus, so the partnership goes on. Foolish? Not even close. While we can chide Leipheimer for not racing for himself, it's a little harder in Greipel's case. It's very, very hard to picture him beating Cav head2head -- the record is a scant 6-2, with the two being a Giro stage last year as the teammates finished together, and a Rhineland-Pfalz stage from 2006. But nobody beats Cav, and Greipel is a human, so there you go.

Meanwhile, while swapping leadership with Cavendish, Greipel has taken his career light years beyond where it was. With Wiesenhof and T-Mobile, the promising sprinter managed five minor wins in three seasons. Since Stapleton brought the team to America, Greipel has won 15 and 18 times (counting stages and classifications) in 2008 and 2009 to date. He ranks 16th in the world this year (about to move up to 13th maybe?), third on his team and second among his countrymen (to quasi-German Haussler). In short, he's an elite pro now. On his own he might aim a little higher, but not much. All that's missing from his resume is a second grand tour, but Cav will be owning France for a while, and Greipel's chances in the Giro would be uncertain, given the large stable of local sprinters. I suspect he feels he's better off being the number two guy piloting the world's number one team than the number one guy piloting a far lesser outfit. Nobody can say for sure, since we don't get to see him try his luck in July on his own, but the results we can see tell a very clear, very successful story.