How Team Columbia-Highroad Won The 2008 Tour Down Under
Team Columbia-Highroad sports director Allan Peiper discusses the team's 2008 Tour Down Under dominance before the start of stage 1 of the 2009 edition of the race.
“How do I remember the Tour Down Under 2008?” Team Columbia-Highroad sports director Allan Peiper says. “It was really, really close. Winning or losing for André [Greipel, Team Columbia-Highroad sprinter] all came down to the last sprint on the last day.”
André Greipel’s victory in the 2008 Tour Down Under was quite possibly the most hard-fought win the race has ever seen in its 11-year history. When he started the last stage, Greipel was leader, but 35 other riders were still at 30 seconds or less overall. Finally, after that nail biting final stage, just 15 seconds separated the Columbia-Highroad sprinter from local fastman Allan Davis, with Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas in third, 33 seconds back.
In a sense, as Peiper explains, for Greipel just to be leading on the last day was a real triumph for him - and a tribute to Columbia-Highroad’s team-work. On the race’s hilliest stage to Willunga, Greipel had been dropped out of the leading group. But team worker Adam Hansen dragged the German sprinter back into contention. Thanks to Hansen’ self-sacrifice, Greipel was then in a position to win that day’s stage, and seize the lead.
But the big unresolved question was: would that lead be solid enough to take the overall? It looked tricky.
“The last stage was always going to be a real struggle, with so many riders that close on GC and bonus seconds on offer in two intermediate sprints,” Peiper recalls. “We just tried as hard as we could to get riders to form a break so the time splits wouldn’t have so much effect overall.”
However, rival squad Team CSC in particular were having none of it. They were keen to keep the race together, pulling back a key break, in order to protect team leader Stuart O’Grady’s overall standing.
“The higher the placing O’Grady got on general classification, the better the placing their team car would have in the vehicle convoy following the riders in the next round of the ProTour, in the Tour of Flanders,” Peiper explains. “So they worked hard to keep things together. And we worked hard to keep it open.”
Then to make matters worse for Team Columbia-Highroad, Davis took the first intermediate sprint, closing the gap between himself and Greipel to just four seconds. That was probably the tensest moment of all for the Columbia-Highroad sprinter. But with the stakes impossible to raise any higher, a blistering acceleration earned Greipel the next intermediate sprint, raising his provisional advantage on GC to five seconds.
Then in the final 70 kmh dash for the finishing line, Greipel did it again, taking his fourth stage and the overall victory in one fell swoop. It had been close, but the German could head back to Europe with the trophy from his first ever ProTour victory safely in his suitcase.
For Columbia-Highroad, André Greipel’s 2008 win in the Tour Down Under represented their first big step back, race-wise, from a tough three months.
“We’d lost our previous sponsor just a few months before and we’d gone through some difficult moments, not knowing if we could pull things together in time for the new season. We had our backs against the wall,” Peiper recalls. “But adversity makes people rise to the challenge sometimes and that’s what happened to our squad. Those difficulties brought us together, made us come back stronger as a team, and André’s victory was the first real sign that we ‘d really managed to do that.”