By Susan Westemeyer
The German teams can look back at a reasonably successful Vuelta a España. Milram took three stage wins and T-Mobile two, while Gerolsteiner placed a rider in the top 15.
Milram is technically an Italian team but has a German sponsor. It was looking to star sprinters Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel, and they didn't let the team down. Zabel was the first to strike, winning the seventh stage.
Petacchi won two stages in the Vuelta, maybe helped by the fact that triple winner Oscar Freire had quit the race to prepare for the Worlds. The Italian took stage 11 and stage 12, but then couldn't get another one, finishing third in the 17th stage and narrowly getting second in the finale in Madrid in a drag race against Daniele Bennati, who was the other rider besides Freire to get three sprint wins.
Milram also achieved a success in that it was the only one of the three German teams to finish with all nine riders.
T-Mobile had come into the race with minimal expectations, saying it had no rider for the GC and would look to escape groups. It suffered two unexpected losses in the race. Lorenzo Bernucci was removed from the race after the third stage and dismissed from the team after a positive test for an appetite suppressant. The team's other Italian in the race, Giuseppe Guerini, dropped out due to illness after the 16th stage. It was the 37-year-old's last race before retirement.
The team had good news, too, though, as German time trial champion Bert Grabsch surprisingly won the first time trial by 34 seconds. The team would have been happy with that, but Spring Classics specialist Andreas Klier added to the total. He got in the right escape group in the 13th stage, and out-sprinted Gerolsteiner's Tom Stamsnijder of Holland to win the stage. T-Mobile finished with only five riders in the race.
Gerolsteiner's best stage finish was Stamsnijder's second place in that 13th stage, when his move was answered by Klier and the German out-sprinted him in the final few hundred metres. Its biggest surprise in the race was a pleasant one, the emergence of Oliver Zaugg. The little (168 cm) Swiss rider finished 15th overall. "That is really a great result," said Directeur Sportif Reimund Dietzen. "Oliver just got stronger as the three weeks went along and constantly showed a good performance." The team's two captains, Davide Rebellin and Stefan Schumacher, both were using the race as training for the World Championships and dropped out about halfway through, leaving Gerolsteiner to finish the race with seven riders.