By Hedwig Kröner in Nancy
Just in time for the Tour's entry into Germany, Gerolsteiner's sprinter Robert "Frösi" Förster shows that he is up to the challenge. Continuously within the first ten in bunch sprint finishes, his performances are steady and it might be just a question of time until he breaks through. Yesterday in wet and cold Nancy, he was lucky not to be involved in the crash that hindered top sprinters Tom Boonen and Robbie McEwen, and came over the line in third position.
"He was lucky not to crash over Mengin," Gerolsteiner DS Christian Henn told Cyclingnews after the finish. "Under the circumstances, this is a good achievement." And these circumstances weren't ideal... But the team director is hopeful. "Robert has been showing a constant form, just like in the Giro d'Italia. He's always a factor in the finishes, and rides well in this race. And he's been telling me that he feels good, and that this isn't any more difficult than the Giro."
The Germans in the Tour de France are of course looking forward to stage 7 from Lunéville to Karlsruhe, at the foot of the famous Black Forest. "Sure, it's special to drive into our country tomorrow," Henn said. "But we haven't picked this stage as our particular goal. We'll make sure that we're represented in the break - Wegmann, Lang, Wrolich, Zberg and Rich being the ones who will have to try and jump early." Henn knows that the chances of a break getting through to the finish aren't big seeing the stage's profile, but all depends on who's in it, and how big the group is.
"If we're in it, of course we won't have to work to catch the break, and Davitamon and Quick.Step do look at each other for a while before getting it together. Discovery will ride their pace until the gap is at 5-6 minutes, then the sprinter's teams take over: it's been like this the last couple of days. But if for example Davitamon has a guy in front too, then Quick.Step might not be able to close in on its own, especially if the break is bigger with about 10 riders and, say, FDJ is also in it." According to Henn, the different teams' objectives could also lead to a surprise finale tomorrow.
Finally, we asked him if the two German teams would maybe become allies in the aim of achieving a possible German victory in their home land, but Henn doesn't see that coming. "T-Mobile has been riding very defensively, they will not mingle in the attacks. Their goal of protecting Ullrich and Vinokourov until the mountains stands higher, although Vino has shown that he doesn't want to put aside his aggressive style altogether. But there was a climb before that finish too...", Henn explained. And the only climbs on the parcours tomorrow are within the first half of the race, leaving more than 150 kilometres of flat countryside before the finish line.
July 7 was the birthday of Erik Zabel, who will be greatly missed by the spectators if it comes down to a sprint finish tomorrow. T-Mobile will not be able to play that card, and the hopes of a nation will lie on Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster instead. Or on another of those young Gerolsteiner talents, eager to show their worth on home turf. Or on Jens Voigt, if he feels up to a "kamikaze" again... We shall see.