Linus Gerdemann never doubted that he would return to racing. After an involuntary year off in 2013, the German will take to the road again next season for MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung, looking to lead the only African Professional Continental team in its hoped-for Grand Tour debut.
“I was always confident that I would find a team that fits to me -- where I can come back to where I was and bring in my qualities,” he told Cyclingnews.
And why did he not find a ride this season? “As the negotiations with RadioShack went on for quite some time after their management change, it was quite late when these talks didn’t materialise. Budgets were spent and the interesting teams had already finalized their rosters.”
He spent a year away from racing but continued to ride his bike. "I also spent a lot of time with my friends. Most importantly I could relax mentally and start fresh into 2014."
Friendship also played a role in his signing with MTN-Qhubeka as, “through my friends Gerald (Ciolek) and Andreas (Stauff) I heard a lot of positive things about this team already. It is a great project and I like it being more than just about cycling. The team serves a higher purpose and I want to be part of it. It is also very professionally managed and I will have the perfect environment to start a successful 2014 season."
Gerdemann and Ciolek have spent years together on the same teams, and even transferred over from Team Columbia-Highroad to Milram for the 2009 season. He explained their relationship to Cyclingnews, and why their won't be any conflict between the two team captains.
“He is like my little cycling-brother. We are really good friends and also spent a lot of time together off the bike. Within the team we won’t have any issues because we are completely different riders. He will be the captain in the sprints and tough one-day races where I will support him as much as I can.”
He sees his role on the team as winning races and helping to “develop their African talent. I think with my experience on the European circuit I can help them develop into more complete professionals. There are so many great talents that will play a huge role in Europe soon. Of course I would like to play a role in the GCs of stage races and start at a Grand Tour.”
Gerdemann, 30, has Grand Tour experience, having ridden the Giro d'Italia once, the Tour de France four times and started the Vuelta a Espana three times. His biggest career win came in 2007 when he soloed to take the win of the seventh stage of the Tour de France, riding into the leader's yellow jersey, which he held for one stage.
“It would be great to start a Grand Tour,” he admitted. “And I think any Grand Tour organizer wouldn’t make a mistake by inviting the team. It’s a great story with great sponsors and a huge pool of talent.”
The heart of the team is the Qhubeka Project, which “helps people move forward and progress by giving bicycles in return for work done to improve communities, the environment or academic results. Having a bicycle changes lives by increasing the distance a person can travel, what they can carry, where they can go and how fast they can get there.”
“The project is an amazing accomplishment. I am really looking forward to being part of it. I also want to go to South Africa myself and see on-site how they make a difference. Gerald and Andreas have done it last year and were really impressed,” Gerdemann said.
“We are not just racing our bike to win races but to make a real difference by helping people that have not been as fortunate. I love the idea. Maybe I can also help to spread the word in Germany and the rest of Europe!”