By Susan Westemeyer
Gerolsteiner started out with the regular nine riders in the Giro d'Italia, but by the second rest day, it was down to two. Having this miniature team allowed the management to send home a number of soigneurs and mechanics as well.
The little team isn't giving up, though. "I can remember Lotto once ended the Giro – in 2003 – with only one rider," spokesman Jörg Grünefeld told Cyclingnews. "We will do it better and fight on with Sven [Krauss] and Johannes [Fröhlinger] until Milano."
The race was going reasonably well for the team. It didn't bring in any of the hoped-for stage wins, but, with the exception of the team time trial and individual time trial, placed a rider in the top ten in every stage up through the 12th stage.
Before the Giro, sports director Christian Henn had said optimistically, "Maybe one of our younger riders will have the luck to be in a successful escape group." Matthias Russ, 24, had that good luck, by getting in the escape group in stage six, which came to the finish 11 minutes ahead of the peloton. But he also had the bad luck to be tied in time for first place overall with Giovanni Visconti, who took over the maglia rosa based on his better finishing time in the opening team time trial.
It was on the 11th stage that things started falling apart. The first to go was Andrea Moletta, who was withdrawn from the race when his father was involved in a doping investigation. In that same stage, Volker Ordowski had to retire with health problems, bringing the team down to seven.
The 14th stage was the first big mountain stage, and Davide Rebellin and Robert Förster did not start. Rebellin was paying the price for his long, successful Spring Classics season, and Förster decided he could find more sprinter-friendly training for the upcoming Tour de France elsewhere. Oscar Gatto dropped out shortly after the stage started, exhausted.
That left four German youngsters, ranging in age from 22 to 25. But on the very next stage, Russ had to drop out with a combination of stomach problems and a cold. Fothen didn't survive the mountain time trial on Monday. His combination of a bad day and a mechanical underway put him last on the stage, with his time of 53'48 missing the cut-off for the time limit by some three minutes.
That left only Johannes Fröhlinger (22) and Sven Krauss (25) to represent the team. The team also carried out a planned change of directeurs sportifs and the two are now accompanied by the team's youngest sports director, Christian Wegmann, 32.