By Brecht Decaluwé in Brest
On Friday morning, the new Columbia team was presented to the press in Brest where the riders are gathering for the Tour de France start tomorrow. The American team's presentation was led by TV commentator Phill Liggett and he introduced Bob Stapleton as the man who rescued the team after it was almost went up the spout after the Telekom doping problems. The team's owner pointed out that he was most happy about the way the team has been successful in recent times.
"We brought together 17 different nationalities and it works out that they get along very well together. With 15 riders being 25 or younger, we have a very young squad as well," Stapleton said. The multimillionaire then introduced his new partner, Christian Ferrell from Columbia, the sports clothing company. He pointed out why Columbia opted for cycling and the High Road team to start their first sport sponsorship engagement.
"We choose them because it is a young international team, they have been very successful overall and they also still have a strong potential. Also, the fairness in the team convinced us to work with this team," Ferrell said. There were three other reasons why Columbia decided to get into the sport, Ferrell explained. "A recent study in the US showed that 65 percent of cyclists are also doing other sports like hiking, running and skiing. We have the technology that protects riders – like the omnishade UV protection – which is part of the new team kit. And also the exposure, since the Tour de France is the third biggest sporting event after the Olympic Games and the World Cup soccer."
Presenter Phill Liggett then introduced the nine Columbia riders for the Tour de France. In this line-up, there are two clear team leaders, being Kim Kirchen for the general classification and Mark Cavendish for the sprints. Bernard Eisel, Gerald Ciolek, Markus Burghardt, Adam Hansen, Lövkvist and Siutsou are the guys who stand beside them, and of course there is George Hincapie as the team captain.
The American will start in his 13th Tour on Saturday which gets him into the Top 10 of all time. "I'd love to win another stage," Hincapie said to Cyclingnews. "I hope the form is good enough for that. There's not really a strong team to control the race, so especially in the mountainous stages there's a chance."
The team's sports manager Rolf Aldag pointed out that he dreamed of finishing in Paris with two stage wins and a Top 5 in the general classification for his team. Look out for the blue Columbia riders, and forget about the white kits they used to wear recently. The new team kit consists of a blue shirt with black shorts of which Kim Kirchen said, "everybody looks awesome."