Ciolek, the new Zabel?

The new U23 World Champ Gerald Ciolek has catapulted himself into the limelight of his home scene...

2006 UCI World Road Championships

CM Salzburg, Austria, September 20-24, 2006

Ciolek, the new Zabel?

The new U23 World Champ Gerald Ciolek has catapulted himself into the limelight of his home scene ever since he won the German championships in 2005, at the tender age of 18 years. Hedwig Kröner tried to find out in Salzburg if he has the mental strength to live up to the public's expectations in the future.

The young blond teenager may look innocent, but he has proven - not only today - that he is a fast charger and merciless competitor, able to be beat the best. Today, German Gerald Ciolek took home the first gold medal of his career, and the rainbow jersey that goes with it. Moreover, the Wiesenhof-Akud rider won the third stage of the Deutschland Tour this season, after getting second at the Henninger Turm race in Frankfurt behind Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas). He also placed fifth in the Hamburg Cyclassics - and all of that only aged 19.

So naturally, winning the World Championships was "a great victory after this season, where I already had other results," Ciolek said. But the man from Pulheim, Germany, also made a very articulate and mature impression at the post-race press conference. With a two-year contract with T-Mobile as of 2007 in his pocket, and the U23 rainbow jersey on his shoulders, just where does he want to go in his career?

"I want to gain more substance as a rider, to be able not only to get better in the sprints, but also to win harder races," he replied. That sounded like Ciolek was going to focus also on stage races?

"Well, I dream of many races: Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, the Classics, of course the Tour de France, the green jersey..." he replied. "But I want to make it very clear that these are only dreams and not targets at the moment. If I win Flanders some day, a very big dream would come true."

Ciolek prefers not to become big-headed, even though his class as a rider has caused some observers to compare him to Erik Zabel - who he beat at the German championships last year, becoming the youngest bearer of this title ever.

"I don't think it would disturb anyone to be compared to Zabel," he explained. "After all the victories that he's had. It could turn your head but only if you let it. It's a great honour, but Zabel has been so successful in his career... We'll see in three or four years if I can even come anywhere near to his palmarès."

It's not in Ciolek's plans to race the Tour de France next year, when he will be with T-Mobile. "Being a young rider, you don't need three-week-races in the first years as a pro, I think," he continued. "Of course, it depends on what the team management decides, but if you ask me, I'd rather not."

Asked if he thought that the Elite Men's race on Sunday would come down to a bunch sprint, he said, "It's true that the pros race differently, but I think that it's not an entire bunch that will arrive in the finish tomorrow. After the steep part of that last climb, it continues on these bumpy passages, so the guys that are further back into the climb won't be able to and lose contact afterwards. My bet is that it will be a small group."

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