News feature, January 15, 2006
One of the world's biggest teams, T-Mobile, had its traditional training camp and presentation in Mallorca this week. Shane Stokes was there for the spectacle.
The 2006 T-Mobile team was unveiled on Saturday in a slickly-presented launch in the Club Robinson Cala Serena in the Balearic island of Mallorca. A total of 29 male and 10 female riders took part in the presentation, with both squads expressing confidence and determination about the months that lie ahead.
As might be expected, star of the launch was Tour de France perennial challenger Jan Ullrich. He won the race in 1997 but since then has had to contend with the dominance of Lance Armstrong, finishing second to the American three times. It is entirely conceivable that had their eras not overlapped, Ullrich would have lived up to earlier predications of himself as a multiple winner of the race. However, although he is now 32 years of age, he knows that it is still possible to top the podium in Paris at least once more before he finally hangs up his cleats.
There has been much talk in recent months that Ullrich was approaching 2006 with renewed motivation. In the past two years he has finished third and fourth in the Tour, but there is a sense that things could be different next time round. Ullrich certainly looked in good shape at Saturday's launch, appearing lean and muscular and fully at ease with his status as undisputed leader of the team.
"This year is a big one for me," he told the estimated 160 journalists present. "I'm not getting any younger and won't have many more chances to win the Tour... If I train normally and don't have to chase after my form in the spring, then I will be better in the mountains in July than I was last year."
The presentation opened with a music-accompanied video clip which showed segments from T-Mobile's team-building and winter camps. The riders were pictured sailing, skiing, chucking snowballs at each other and doing various other such bonding exercises, before the footage switched to the ongoing training camp here in Mallorca. The presenters of the launch then discussed the new team in some length, before the video screen came back into action again and showed details of T-Mobile's commendable support for the "Schools for Africa" initiative (see below).
It was then time to unveil the new women's squad, which has gone from being an American-based initiative to one which is fully amalgamated into the German-based setup. 2004 world road race champion and Olympic silver medallist Judith Arndt led the riders out and both she and Ina Teutenberg spoke of their approval for the new setup and their hopes for a strong season ahead.
Team director Andrzej Bek was similarly positive about the squad. "We've assembled a team that has the right athletes and the right chemistry," he told the assembled press. "We are aiming to do well in the World Cup events, international stage races and also to secure a top position in the UCI world rankings."
Attention then focused to the men's team, with the directeurs sportifs talking for some length on their plans for the season. "We have a good mix of younger riders with potential for the future and experienced pros who will take over responsibility at the big races," said team manager Olaf Ludwig. "If all of our top riders are on board, we will certainly be a force to be reckoned with at the Tour.
"Naturally the Tour de France is the highlight, but we also want to put ourselves in the scene in other races like the Spring Classics."
Ludwig stressed that unity and co-operation would be a big strength. "The team will regularly come together to train, race and test out new material. We will also track closely the individual performances of each rider over the course of the season."
Riders were then presented in one of four groups. Young riders such as Patrik Sinkewitz and Linus Gerdemann have already shown their promise with rides in big races; hopes are high that this eight-man group will continue to progress in 2006. Stefan Wesemann and Andreas Klier are part of a designated Classics core squad, while Olaf Pollack and André Korff are amongst the sprinters and allrounders group. The final section of the team to be presented was the Grand Tour specialists, with Ullrich, Klöden and Michael Rogers spearheading the charge. Each appeared in good shape, looking lean at this early stage of the season. For them, the big races are several months away, but the general feeling of optimism and focus at the launch was hard to miss.
German team unveils charity initiative
Aside from unveiling their biggest-ever lineup of riders, the T-Mobile squad made history in another way when they announced their decision to back the UNICEF "Schools for Africa" initiative and to donate money to the charity. Besides drawing attention to the project via the media and on the team website, T-Mobile have pledged to give €3,000 for every UCI win its riders take this year.
While taking part in a training camp in South Africa last month, Jan Ullrich, Matthias Kessler and Patrik Sinkewitz and Jan Ullrich saw firsthand the harsh conditions in the country. They visited three families affected by AIDS, an experience which had a big effect on each of them.
"We were all deeply touched. Even though you have heard about many problems, it's not until you see it for yourself that you realise the impact," said Ullrich. "But it's impressive to see the work UNICEF are doing."
Ullrich added that the fact that he and the majority of the team has been training in this part of Africa is one of the reason why the T-Mobile Team have decided to back the initiative. The "Schools for Africa" project has been set up in order to alleviate educational deprivation in the continent. According to UNICEF, about 45 million children don't go to school there, making this another factor in the poverty affecting the region.