By Hedwig Kröner in Rasteau
German T-Mobile Team hasn't been able to show itself much in these first half of Paris-Nice. With newly arrived Kim Kirchen out of the race since stage three, together with Thomas Ziegler, the team participates in breakaways, like in today's stage where Bas Giling rode in front of the bunch for more than 100 kilometres. Unluckily, it was designed for a sprint finish... but the harder days on the way to Nice are yet to come, and T-Mobile is hoping to be out for more.
"Our leader for Paris-Nice, Kim Kirchen, had relatively bad back pain and abandoned because of that," T-Mobile's Linus Gerdemann told Cyclingnews in the finish of stage four in Rasteau. "We're still a young team here; it's true that we haven't been able to show our abilities yet but I don't think we're too bad, either."
Gerdemann is also one of the team's new recruits for 2006, along with Patrik Sinkewitz, Jörg Ludewig and Eddy Mazzoleni, who all race Paris-Nice. Unfortunately, the 23 year-old Tour de Suisse stage winner, rated a great German stage race talent, experienced some difficulties the very first day.
"I had a lot of bad luck in the prologue - I went on the course when it rained," he said, explaining about his 86th place, 21 seconds off the winner Bobby Julich. "I don't want to hide behind excuses but I think I was still the best rider of all of those who started in the rain. The road was wet, there was a fast descent with five curves with zebra crossings - you just can't do much in these circumstances. I certainly lost ten seconds there, and if I hadn't lost them, I would have been in the top 20."
Nevertheless, Gerdemann is satisfied with his appearance in France so far, and is now looking to raise his overall placing. "Yesterday, my performance was good as I was able to be in the front group when we hit the final climb, so the ascent went alright," he continued. "Unfortunately, Kim Kirchen wasn't there anymore to benefit from my work, as he abandoned. Now, I feel good for the last three, hard stages. I'm still within striking distance so I don't think they'll let me go for a stage win because the time gap is too small. But I'll try to improve my GC placing - or, if I have a really bad day tomorrow, go for a stage win after that. My form is okay for this time of the year."
Last year, Gerdemann made headlines not only because of his stage victory in the Tour de Suisse, but also because his then-team director Bjarne Riis spoke of him as being "the greatest German talent since Jan Ullrich". Did he feel any pressure after this mighty wording?
"No, I've always said that I want to live up to the expectations but you shouldn't forget that I only started cycling when I was 17 years old," Gerdemann replied. "So I haven't been in the saddle for that long, and I think Bjarne said it in that context. I see this as really the first season of being a pro, as I was still an amateur in Spring last year. So I'm really quite satisfied with myself. If I had eased up a little yesterday instead of jumping away with breaks, I could have achieved a placing within the top ten, I'm sure. But somebody's gotta attack, and I like doing that too. So I'm just satisfied to see that the absolute top riders here are not that far away in Paris-Nice."
Having already attained his declared pre-season goal, "improving my stamina", the young rider is now taking things one step at a time. "I'll ride Milano-San Remo next week, then I'll take a break for a while. I'll continue with Tour de Romandie to shape up again for the Giro," he added.