News feature, October 20, 2006.
Teamwork in professional sport is often the difference between mediocrity and greatness - particularly in cycling. With that in mind, the leading ProTour teams do everything in their power to begin building strong working relationships between their riders as soon as contract obligations permit. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with the T-Mobile Mens' team during a recent team building meeting.
Bob Stapleton doesn't speak much German yet, but he knows two very important words: "Die Mannschaft" - the team. "These are two powerful words that we need to build power in," he told the assembled 2007 Team T-Mobile squad at its first team meeting in Lugano. "Only through a commitment to personal improvement, mutual respect and trust, and confidence in every member of the team, staff and management can we become something special."
The team meeting involved the usual photography sessions, trying on of clothing, medical tests, race planning, nutritional workshops, and, most importantly, a chance for the team members to get to know each other. Six new manages and 13 new riders are joining the team as well as new staff members for 2007.
They all took to the treetops on Sunday for a climbing course, which required the team to, well, work as a team! "Positive thinking, group motivation and effective internal communication to solve problems together: these are all crucial to setting a cycling team on the road to success," said incoming Sports Director Rolf Aldag.
The team also introduced its newest Directeur Sportif, Jan Schaffrath, who is returning to T-Mobile after a year working for Team Milram. "Jan can help us enormously with national and international talent scouting. He fits perfectly into our team, is very well connected in the sport and can draw on many years of cycling experience. I have huge confidence in him," added Aldag.
A series of independent experts were also introduced to the team members, experts who will support the team and riders through the year. Prof. Dr. Walter Schmidt from the University of Beyreuth is responsible for overseeing the blood volume tests. Nutritionist Beate Pfeiffer will help the riders and their partners with food questions. Sports scientist Sebastian Weber will control the training.
In addition, the team will work with TrainingPeaks software. According to the company, the riders will be able to directly download their training and race data into the provided software "and then synch their files up to web accounts at TrainingPeaks.com. By incorporating both Training Peaks desktop and web services, T-Mobile team doctors and coaches will have access to rider data 24-hours a day, from any computer world wide. Training Peaks functionality will allow the T-Mobile Team Management to monitor, analyse and plan all aspects of a rider's training program."
Stapleton was happy with his new venture. "The camp was a great first step toward a successful 2007 season. We were anxious to end 2006 and immediately build a positive and optimistic view on 2007," he told Cyclingnews. "I was particularly pleased with the enthusiasm and motivation of the athletes for the coming season."
"I give Rolf Aldag and the sport directors a 'grade A' for the preparation and planning. It is extremely encouraging to see Rolf's team of managers work so well together and how good the rapport is with the riders. It's motivating to be a part of it," he exclaimed. "The biggest surprise was how quickly riders from 14 different countries came together and began to communicate. They clearly are proud to be a part of this team and want to achieve something" With such a varied international background, the team has declared English to be the official language, "in order to improve and optimise communication."
The riders echoed those sentiments. "The spirit was excellent. We have an outstanding mix of young and experienced riders, who were all open, interacted well and had a lot of fun together," said Linus Gerdemann. Australian Adam Hansen, a newcomer to the team, bubbled over on his website, saying, "It's so nice here in Lugano! I've been trying to remember everyone's names! Not so easy, [as there is] about 75 people in our team, including all staff! Some funny riders too, which is always nice!" Fellow newcomer Marco Pinotti said, "the team is big and the staff even bigger and well organised," and noted with pleasure that he is scheduled to ride the Giro d'Italia.
Pinotti will also be one of fifteen riders attending an eight-day training camp in November, "to further work with new riders and help the team grow together in a relaxed atmosphere," the team said. The camp, on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, will also be attended by Sebastian Weber, who will co-ordinate individual training programs for the riders, as well as physios and DSs. The whole team will gather on Mallorca from January 8 - 18, for its traditional training camp. "Our goal is to be competitive from the beginning of the season on and to win races," concluded Aldag.