I had the unique opportunity to catch up with recently retired sprint superstar and Zwift Ambassador Andre Greipel at the Global Bike Festival presented by Zwift, where we discussed his retirement from racing and the next chapter in his remarkable journey.
For those that are not familiar with Andre, he amassed a total of 158 career victories over a remarkable 16 years riding with some of the world’s top teams. He won stages in all the Grand Tours, with 11 at the Tour de France, 7 at the Giro d’Italia, and 4 at the Vuelta a España, which also included winning the Points Categorisation in 2009. In addition, he was the German Road Race Champion on no less than three occasions.
With a life spent on the bike and a wealth of experiences to draw upon, I asked what one of his favourite memories was on a bike, from his professional career and outside. Andre’s response was one that really resonated: “I wouldn’t put it down to professional cycling life, for me cycling is just about creating memories, of course you can create them at a race, but for me the best memory you can create on a bike is when you start your ride early and watch the sun come up, that is the best memory you can create, that is what I really enjoy when I ride my bike. From time to time I start riding my bike before the sun comes up and I come back to all the important things in life. These are the memories you won’t forget.”
Teams and Friendships
As noted, Andre rode for some of the leading teams in the pro peloton, including T-Mobile, Omega Pharma-Lotto/Lotto-Belisol, and Israel Start-Up Nation. He commented that the best team was Lotto-Belisol: “Off the bike, we all had real good friendships. Therefore, it was also hard to leave the team, but I am still connected with these guys, and this is what was important to me, to have these friendships in the team, as I always knew I would do more for a friend than for a teammate. That is why it was always important to have a good team, to create those friendships.”
I asked about Andre’s decision to retire at the end of the 2021 season and he explained that he was actually supposed to stop at the end of 2019! He said. “I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, but I had to prove something to myself. Of course the 2020 season with Coronavirus was not a good season, I broke my collarbone and it wasn’t really a season. The 2021 season I won two bike races and it didn’t mean anything, I didn’t have the feeling of achieving anything anymore, so I told myself, ‘OK, that is the moment I should stop.’ Everyone told me that you will find the moment you want to stop and that moment came.”
Following his injury, I wondered how he managed to keep himself motivated and he explained, “I was always 100% professional and it was never a problem to keep myself motivated. No matter what, I wanted to be in good shape when the racing picked up, I was already overtrained and too fit for when the season started.”
Dedication to Fitness
This dedication to fitness continues now. Despite retiring, Andre is still in remarkable condition and I can personally testify as I was fortunate to ride with him as we tackled the Grossglockner, a 21.4km climb that topped off at 2400 meters, in the heart of the Austrian Alps.
I could only manage to stay with him on the climb until 1700 meters and watched in awe as he pulled away. Appreciating that Andre is a sprinter, this further highlighted the gap between an enthusiastic amateur and a trained professional, a gap that was further emphasised on the descent! As I descended at 70kph, at the top end of my comfort level, Andre overtook me on the outside and disappeared down the mountain. It was impressive to see.
I asked about his ability to maintain his form and he explained that, “Being a cyclist is a lifestyle, so when I was a professional, I never had to force myself to train, I just enjoyed every day on the bike. You hear a lot of ex-professionals never touching the bike again, this was never the case with me, so that makes it easy for me to go training. I don’t call it training, I just call it riding the bike. And cycling is about creating moments with others and to do that you have to ride your bike. This is the lifestyle I want to give back which is why I join a lot of rides, because these rides are important to keep cyclists in the sport. It connects generations and also different sport levels.”
I was impressed with Andre’s desire to foster people’s enthusiasm with the sport and asked if this is what inspired him to get involved with Zwift. For those that are unaware, Andre is an accomplished Zwifter, with close to 10,000km logged on the platform. He is also currently a Zwift Ambassador.
However, it’s only recently his pleasure for training inside has developed. He explained, “I hated training on the rollers, which has to do with my childhood, we had indoor trainers which was an old frame connected to resistance. It was so loud, in a small room with no fan, every time we did the training on the indoor training, we were suffering. I think that is why I always hated training indoors and in the winter, I always went out. Then Zwift came along. It totally changed my training in the winter time. I knew efforts were important for me so I started to do more intervals in the winter and it totally changed my training and I also liked the community. It’s a bubble of cyclists and so nice to see that I can ride with someone in New Zealand on the same parcours. It was a game changer. Also seeing yourself going up in the levels, I also was one of the first professionals on Zwift. I didn’t get it for free, I paid for it. I just liked it.”
He went on to say that “Riding on Zwift distracted you from thinking you are riding indoors, you just want to finish the parcour. Even now when I get the feeling I want to race, I just go on Zwift. I do a crit session. I don’t need to do it anymore but I just like to suffer.”
In terms of Zwift, Andre is certainly serious and is well kitted out on the tech side, where he rides a Wahoo KICKR V5 with the Wahoo CLIMB, rounded off with a rocker plate.
I asked how his Ambassadorial role came about. “We did a lot before, we did charity rides. My mother passed away from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), she was always happy to find out more about this disease so it was important to keep up the awareness of this disease. The Zwift charity ride was one of the highest numbers combining all the group rides. It was nice that the cycling community helped each other, and so it was nothing to think about becoming an Ambassador, I am proud and hopefully I can create some more things with them.”
About Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
For those not familiar with ALS, it is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. There is currently no cure for ALS. For more information visit als.org/understanding-als.
Given Andre’s sprinting skills, I am hoping he will host a masterclass in that field on Zwift, something many of us would benefit from. Apparently, this is something that is being considered.
Given Andre’s pedigree, I asked if he fancied competing for the indoor world championships, and by his own admission, “You have to get good at racing, and race, race, race. You can’t do it alone and you have to train well.”
It’s also doubtful if Andre would have the time as he is busy working with some of the industry’s leading brands. He mentioned that he is working with uvex helmets and glasses as well as clothing manufacturer Ryzon, so despite retiring from cycling, life is not slowing down!
*Special thanks to Andre for agreeing to the interview and Lizzie Dunthorne for facilitating.