ADELAIDE, Australia -- Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) picked up where he left off last season, with his big brawny arms flexed in victory salute on Tuesday.
The German ace made easy work of his rivals to win for the second time in three days to claim the opening stage of the 15th Santos Tour Down Under. He won Sunday evening's prologue criterium with equal ease.
"It's nice to win the first races of the season. It shows that we are working well together," Greipel said. "It's easier when we have the same guys as last year. We already know how to work together. I hope that means we can win a lot."
Greipel has emerged as the lone rider capable of challenging Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) for supremacy in the bunch sprints. Others are nipping at their heels, including Peter Sagan (Cannondale), but right now the battle of the trains looks to be Cavendish versus Greipel.
Cavendish also won his first race for his new team in the opening stage of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, setting the stage for what could be a season-long showdown between the two former High Road teammates.
In Australia, Lotto returns with its crack leadout train, which delivered three stage wins in last year's Tour de France, fully intact. Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson, Marcel Sieberg and Jurgen Roelandts are all back and gunning for Greipel in the bunch sprints.
"We are the only team to completely commit to just one sprinter, Andre," Hansen said. "The team knows that if we do our job, Andre will be hard to beat. We are all very comfortable working together."
Greipel's train is now a well-oiled machine, with veteran Kiwi Henderson Greipel's final leadout man. The team was unbeatable in Sunday's crit and again in Tuesday's lumpy Down Under opener.
Greipel's train has been together for several seasons, with much of his High Road supporting cast following him to Lotto at the end of 2011.
Mark Renshaw (Blanco) led Cavendish to dozens of wins as his former leadout man at High Road. The Aussie called Greipel's train the best in the business right now.
"They're the best team right now setting up the sprints," said Renshaw, who was third Tuesday. "They've built a solid train for him. That’s the easiest way to win a sprint. It's not easy to build, but they've done a good job over there."
Cavendish, meanwhile, will be looking to rebuild an effective train with his transfer from Sky to Omega Pharma.
Andrew Fenn and Geert Steegmans, two riders who will likely be part of Cavendish's sprint train, are racing this week in Australia.
It remains to be seen who will work into the role as Cavendish's final leadout man, but Omega Pharma director Brian Holm hinted that it would probably be Steegmans.
"We have some strong riders here to ride for Cav," said Holm, who teams up with Cavendish after they worked together at High Road. "Cav is so fast he doesn't even need a train to win. He proved that last year on Sky. We will ride for him. He will be back on top; there's not doubt about that."
Cavendish left Sky because the team was committed to its GC options with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. With the full support at Omega Pharma, with Tom Boonen declaring he would work for Cavendish in the bunch sprints, the "Manx Missile" should be back at the top of his game.
Standing in his way will be Greipel's gang at Lotto.