News Feature, February 22, 2008
There are three parts to Team Volksbank four youngsters, seven "over-30s", and five in the middle, who have paid their dues as newcomers and are now ready to prove their worth. Ten of the riders are new to the team this year, and they are all ready to take on the challenge of "baiting the big guys," as Team Manager Thomas Kofler put it. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer was in Bregenz, Austria, where Austrian Professional Continental team presented its 2008 squad on Wednesday, against the beautiful background of the Bodensee (Lake Constance).
Three of the newcomers bring ProTour experience to the team. Daniel Musiol rode for Team Milram for one year, but André Korff and Olaf Pollack can look back on many years of experience. Pollack and Gerrit Glomser, who has been with Volksbank since 2006, will be the team's captains. Glomser, 32, has already gotten the season off to a good start, winning the climber's jersey in the Giro di Grossetto earlier in the month.
Sprinter Pollack, 34, who has worn the leader's maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia and brought in many wins for his former teams Wiesenhof, T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner, will be looking more to the track this season. While the Olympic games are a definite goal, "Beijing is not until August. The first goal is the track World Championships in March." Korff, also 34, has been a pro since 1998. The sprinter said, "I don't believe that I am one of the world's best, but I know how it goes. I can help Olaf and some of the younger riders. I am now one of the older ones and I will try to share my experience."
While Pollack will be looking to the track, another newcomer is looking more to cyclo-cross racing, and with good reason. Peter Presslauer has won the Austrian national 'cross title eight times, including this year (with Glomser finishing third). The 30 year-old will concentrate on helping the team in the spring and early summer, before he turns to training again for the upcoming fall and winter 'cross season. But in the meantime he is looking forward to the Spring Classics, the Dreidaagse van De Panne and Omloop Het Volk.
"I have learned from the mistakes of the past, which has made many decisions easier." - Team Manager Thomas Kofler admitted the first two years as Pro Continental team were not easy.
One of the team's youngsters is actually a veteran, 21 year-old Philipp Ludescher, who signed with the team two years ago. The other three, also only 21 years old, are Alexander Egger, Elias Schmäh and Christoph Sokoll. All three said their goal this year is to help the team as much as possible and develop themselves further. Schmäh, only 164 cm tall, is a talented climber who is also U23 Swiss road champion.
Then there are those "in-between" riders the mid-twenties riders who have put in their time as neo-pros and now are ready to stake their place in the peloton. Three of the five are new to the team Andreas Dietziker, Alexander Gufler, and Daniel Musiol joining Josef Benetseder and Florian Stalder. Stalder probably spoke for all of them when he said, "Last year I was very close to my first pro win several times. This year I absolutely want to get it!"
The team opened the presentation with a minute of silence for Andreas Matzbacher, to whom it is dedicating the season. The 25 year-old died in an auto accident on Christmas Eve.
The team management is looking forward to the new season, for which the UCI has given it wild card status. "The team has a broader base, we have strengthened the team," said Patrick Vetsch, one of three Directeurs Sportif. "I am not worried about the new season. The guys are very motivated, maybe even too motivated. Sometimes we have to stop them!"
"Today we are here where the team's roots are, but we have an international team," Kofler concluded. "It is not easy right now in cycling, but I think with a solid performance and good management, we can help secure the future of cycling."
Thomas Kofler is the heart and soul of Team Volksbank. He has nurtured the team from its U23 days and helped it move up to GS-3 in 2003, when the young team won both the climber's and sprinter's jersey in its first Östererich Rundfahrt. The years brought more and more successes, and in 2006 it took the big step to moving up to Professional Continental status. Those first two years as a Professional Continental team weren't easy, but, as Kofler said, "I have learned from the mistakes of the past, which has made many decisions easier."
Kofler himself was a professional skier as a teenager, but after finishing school, he left that sport and took two steps which would turn out to have a major effect on his future life: he took up cycling as an amateur and went to work for Volksbank. He was not unfamiliar with cycling his father had been a good cyclist. "I rode, too, but not well." He combined his interests by involving Volksbank in sponsoring matters. The involvement grew and grew and ended up taking up much of his time, but it wasn't until last year that he dared to take the step of quitting his job at the bank and devoting himself full-time to the team. "It was a difficult decision," he noted, pointing to his young family, "but it was a good decision."
Unfortunately, no discussion of cycling is possible today without the word "doping" appearing. Kofler has definite views on the matter. "If one of our rider tests positive, then our sponsor Volksbank is gone." But his anti-doping motives are not merely financial, he is truly concerned about doing the right thing. "There are things that are forbidden and things that are allowed. There is no in-between," he said firmly.
The team is involved in all of the UCI anti-doping programs, such as the blood-passport and the whereabouts reporting requirements. The team also conducts internal controls. "That is about all we can do. We don't have a big budget like T-Mobile had, or CSC, and that's no guarantee, anyway." Kofler concentrates on speaking with and educating his riders, and not just about doping. "With the young riders, you have to talk to them. A lot of riders don't see that they don't get enough sleep, proper nutrition, good training. These are things that aren't always discussed, but we have made them major themes. All of these things are important, but they tend to be forgotten. One hears only 'doping, doping, doping.' In the end the most important thing is the work."
Kofler is looking to finish near the top this year. "We have a balanced mixture of experienced and young riders, who are motivated and hungry for success." While those four very young-looking 21 year-olds may stand in the foreground at the moment, he is not looking to them for results this year. "We also have some riders who have a bit of experience, two or three years, and are ready to take the next step up." Add to these the over-30 veterans, and "I think the combination is right and you can see that the chemistry is right."
As is appropriate for a young team, it has a young manager. Kofler is only 35, the same age as his oldest rider, Harald Morscher. The two are literally the same age, as they even share the same birthday, June 22.
The team has grown and changed so much over the years, and Kofler wants to keep that tradition up, but only to a certain extent. "The next step would be the ProTour, but in end effect, I think it is better to stay Professional Continental and not go ProTour." Eying the difficulties this year in the ProTour, he noted, "I think that all glitters are not gold. There are many problems." The federations, organizations, races and teams "are all working against each other. They should be willing to take the step and say what was, was, and now we are starting over new. Otherwise it will turn into a situation where they are just very big teams and very little teams."
"I am optimistic for the future," he concluded. "It would be the wrong thing now to stick your head in the sand. If I did that, I could just go back to work for the bank."
For the full roster, see the Cyclingnews' teams database.