News Feature, January 16, 2008
Team Gerolsteiner is going into the 2008 season with a younger team than ever before. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer was in Gerolstein, Germany on Tuesday for the formalities where the team laid out its plans, including a bit of a departure from other teams: no internal anti-doping programme.
Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer took the opportunity of the squad's presentation to express his faith in cycling's steps to save the sport from doping's destructive forces, reflecting on the 2007 season with a rather massive understatement, saying it "was not a good year for cycling". He made it clear that cycling itself was responsible for its own problems, and indicated that he is confident that the sport is making its own bold steps to solve the problem.
"What gives me courage not to quit is that changes are coming, they are happening," Holczer admitted. "Steps are being taken with an extraordinary control programme." This extraordinary programme in Holczer's mind is the UCI's programme and he sees no need to invest in an internal anti-doping programme to protect the team's image. "We have no internal anti-doping programme. We will follow the UCI anti-doping programme, the biological passport. "
Holczer was subtly critical of the internal programs of Team High Road, Team CSC, Astana, and Slipstream, which take large amounts of money from the team's budgets to fund tests which the UCI has based the biological passport upon. The internal program, he said, is "unnecessary and is the wrong step. As I see it, all the money that is put into this area should all go into a common program," Holczer continued.
"What gives me courage not to quit is that changes are coming, they are happening" - Gerolsteiner manager Hans Michael Holczer is optimistic about cycling's future..
He went on to say that he doesn't expect it all to be smooth sailing with the biological passports. "There will be problems, there will be positive tests, but that only goes to show that the programme works," he said, concluding, "No sport will ever be free of doping."
Quality over quantity
Holczer is once again fielding a team which is younger than the previous year. This time, nearly half of its riders are under 25 and only four are over 30. The youthful 2007 squad wasn't quite as successful as the previous year's, but Holczer explained that what the team's wins lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality
"We made a big step last year, bringing in many young, inexperienced riders, which made it difficult during the season," said Holczer. But the victories the team achieved were nothing to scoff at. "[We won] two Classics, Rebellin second in the ProTour, third in the Worlds, and the German national title – those were successes in another dimension."
The 2008 roster will not differ significantly from the previous squad. Five riders left and three have joined, with the only veteran coming over to the bubbly water boys is Stephan Schreck, formerly with T-Mobile Team. The team will have two neo-pros, Italian Francesco De Bonis and Mathias Frank of Switzerland.
Davide Rebellin, Stefan Schumacher and Markus Fothen will continue to lead the team. Fothen noted that he was not at all satisfied with his 2007 season. "I have learned from my mistakes of last season, and the learning process continues. I still want to win the Tour at some point. I don't know my limits," Fothen admitted, but at 26 years of age, he's feeling anxious to show his talents. "I am no longer the youngest and continue to work on myself."
Rebellin will, as usual, concentrate on the Spring Classics, the Olympics in Beijing and the Worlds, which will take place in his native Italy.
Woes and opportunities
Other riders generated a buzz of attention from the assembled press, the most shocking of which was Sven Krauss, who showed up at the presentation with a bruised and battered face. While training on Mallorca about a week ago, he said, "I somehow crashed, although I have absolutely no memory of what happened." Krauss hit the pavement face first and presented himself with six stitches around the eyebrow, four in the chin, and numerous bruises. His first race, by the way, will be the Mallorca Challenge, even if he is not totally convinced that that is such a good idea.
As expected, the main focus of the press was on Stefan Schumacher, who has been gathering plenty of non-sporting headlines lately, but the Amstel Gold winner would say nothing of his run-ins with drunk driving and amphetamines. Instead, 'Schumi' laid out his goals for the upcoming season as is traditional for a team launch. "In 2007 I made a big step forward and want to continue to improve in 2008," he said. "I want do well in the Tour, the Ardennes Classics, and the Worlds will be a good course for me, I think."
After suffering the disappointment of losing to the Italian Paolo Bettini just kilometres from his hometown, Schumacher said he wouldn't mind beating the reigning World Champion in his own homeland. "I think that wouldn't be bad," he said with a grin.
Holczer also had little to say about his 'problem child'. "My attorney has told me that this is a private matter of Stefan Schumacher," he said, skirting the issue. He did say, however, that discussions are taking place about what will happen with Schumacher, but concluded, "I don't want to say anything more about this matter," refusing to even confirm that the German would still be riding for the team this season.
The bad publicity generated by Schumacher's off-season antics came at the worst possible time, as the team's title sponsor is in its last year of its contract and has chosen not to renew with the cycling team. Busy with the search for a new sponsor, Holczer was clearly not helped by the bad press. "It's hard to say how much of an effect it will have," on sponsorship negotiations, Holczer said, "but there is no question that it doesn't help."
The manager has been making plenty of contacts and fielding inquiries about the team, and is certain of the type of title sponsor he is looking for: "A sponsor who feels at home here in Germany and to whom the German market is important," he described, adding that the ideal candidate must also be a player on the international scene. "We have an enormous potential in other lands, which so far no one has been able to use."
Holczer, far from being discouraged by cycling's problems and the recent issues from within his own team, has found the quest for a new benefactor to be "exciting, simply exciting." The negotiations are plentiful and ongoing, but he indicated that nothing has been solidified as of yet. "It's not as if someone knocks on the door and says, I want to be your new main sponsor."
For the full roster, see the Cyclingnews teams database.