It has been said that the race is won by the rider who has the highest tolerance for suffering. A great endurance athlete has to be able to absorb potential embarrassment and to endure pain without complaint, they have to know that what it comes down to is the ability to just grit your teeth and outlast the rest. Among those most closely acquainted with this feeling? German racer André Greipel. A pure sprinter, Greipel is one of the most prolific cyclists of his era, clocking in more and more miles (and wins) each year.
As is the case with any athlete of this caliber, Greipel’s climb to the top of the cycling world was a hard-fought battle. These men and women know that it doesn’t get any easier as you get better, you just go faster and work harder. It’s a rotation of pain, adversity, confronting the challenge, improving, and finally arriving at the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile. Greipel knows that part of cycling’s core is the ability to take your discomfort and give it meaning. Embracing this mentality, the true racer realizes that it doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or a rest stop with homemade lemonade, if you never confront pain you’re missing the essence of the sport.
For Greipel, the 2008 Tour Down Under marked the turning point of his cycling career. Winning the overall classification by a narrow margin of 7 seconds, over the local Allan David, he also finished with impressive 4 stage wins out of a possibility of 6. Serving as the boost of motivation and confidence he needed, he went on to score his first stage win of the Grand Tour later that season at Giro d’Italia.
Since then it has been a series of consistent accomplishments for the “Gorilla,” a nickname he acquired in 2008 thanks to his dominant physical presence on the road. It continues to be the sports media’s preferred way of referring to him, as his name has become a mainstay within the world of cycling news. His major successes have included 20 stage victories at Grand Tours, 10 at the Tour de France, 4 at the Vuelta a Espana, and 6 at the Giro d’Italia. He also prevailed in the classic Paris-Bourges and won the overall classification of the Australian race Tour Down Under again in 2010.
Showing no sign of slowing down, 2015 was the most successful year of his career. He took his first victory of the season at the Volta ao Algarve, grabbing his next in the second stage of the Paris-Nice, a win he touchingly dedicated to his sick mother. From there, he went on to collect a series of other triumphs. He was the proud victor of the second stage at the Tour de France, a windy affair at which he out-sprinted Peter Segan, Mark Cavendish and Fabian Cancellara. He also took the fifth, fifteenth, and the final twenty-first stage, gaining the most stage victories of all at the last year’s Tour.
The world of professional sprinting is of course highly competitive, but is also made up of an incredibly tight-knit and supportive community. With these athletes pushing their bodies to the kind of extremes that they do, they need to be able to rely on each other for encouragement and motivation. Greipel races for UCI World Tour team Lotto-Soudal, a Belgian professional cycling team with a long history of cycling sponsorship. The team also relies on ŠKODA to provide their team cars and to get them and their gear to and from races. These important partnerships prove how many parties have to cooperate in order for both an individual and a cycling team to achieve their potential. Bringing out the best in each other, it’s all about expanding the horizons of what is possible.
Another lesson we can learn from an athlete like Greipel, is the extent to which cycling can add exhilaration and meaning to the lives of those who push it to the next level. In theory, the bike is a simple machine, but it is capable of conjuring a vast range of emotions. In addition to heightening the senses and raising the spirits of those who watch, for those who race, there is no better sensation than being on top of your gear, making mountains feel like flat roads. His story reminds us that cycling is a mix of everything, beauty and joy, freedom and escapism, pain and suffering. As Greipel knows, these are all part and parcel of what makes life on two wheels so rewarding. How has cycling encouraged you to push your limits? Submit your story here.