“You know, sometimes, André is just too nice,” Lotto-Soudal general manager Marc Sergeant once said when speaking of his team’s star sprinter. Sergeant was explaining why André Greipel took time to evolve as a top sprinter. But since he signed with the Lotto team in 2011, Greipel has evolved into one of the world’s most consistently successful riders, having won at least one stage in every Tour de France he has started. And the rider sometimes known as the Gorilla for his hefty build has shown no signs of slowing down—even though he will be celebrating his 35th birthday on July 16, on stage 15 of this year’s Tour.

Words and images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton Magazine

With the Tour starting in Düsseldorf, only a half-hour’s drive from his home, Greipel is lining up for the race this Saturday with extra motivation. The opening-day time trial rules him out of wearing the yellow jersey in his homeland, but the German knows there will be plenty of other opportunities in the next three weeks to add to his collection of 11 Tour stage wins—and add to his 22 career stage wins in the three grand tours.

1) What memories do you have of your native East Germany? Well, I was just a kid. For me, it was very much the same as today. But I remember that everybody had jobs and nobody was complaining really because, well, we didn’t really know anything different. But there was definitely excitement when the Wall came down. For my parents and their friends, it was just huge!

2) What was your first bike? It was a Diamant, a racing bike from East Germany. I was about 10 when I started cycling and I could rent the bike from the club.

3) What made you become a pro cyclist? When I first started cycling it was more like playing than racing. I can’t really remember when I first won a race. I really had no clue what I was doing, I was just happy to be in the race. I was always in the mix, but there always seemed to be a few guys that were faster than me. But as I got older, and the passion continued, I really dreamed of turning pro. That’s what you do when you chase your dreams. I’m not sure when I really made cycling my main goal. Probably when I was around 16. At that age you have to make a choice whether you are going to go out to the parties or stay home and rest for racing and training. But for me it was more fun to go spend the weekend with the friends I had made at the races. And at that point, I guess I just realized that cycling was what I wanted to be doing.

Greipel’s family are always with him, as their names are tattooed on his arm.

4) Did you have idols growing up? For me, growing up in Germany, Olaf Ludwig was the big star. He was a sprinter like me and he was winning stages in the Tour de France. The first time I saw the Tour on television Ludwig was the big German star, winning stages and all!

5) How have sprinters’ lead-out trains evolved? You really can’t compare lead-out trains today with before. It’s a different period. The thing about today is that there are so many good lead-out trains.

6) What does the Tour starting in Germany mean to you? Oh, it’s just going to be really special for all of us German riders. Not everybody can have the biggest race in the world starting in their own country. And for me, it is just 45 kilometers away. I’m already excited to be there. The media has been hard on us sometimes in the past, but cycling has always been popular in Germany. It’s just huge! It’s going to be a huge party.