Still water runs deep
By Hedwig Kröner in Gerolstein
The third-placed team in the UCI 2004 classification was presented today in Gerolstein, a town in the forest-covered hills of the Eifel region in mid-western Germany. It is also a mineral water source which gave its name to the cycling team, whose members were introduced to the assembled media in the company's huge stock hall amidst a large number of bottles of water - Gerolsteiner being one of the biggest mineral water suppliers in Germany, the dimensions were impressive.
Back from a training camp in Mallorca, the riders one by one jumped up a couple of stairs onto a spotlighted stage, and team director Hans-Michael Holczer outlined the upcoming challenges and goals of what will be the team's seventh season. Starting out in 1999, the small squad evolved rapidly over the years and can now count itself in the ranks of the world's greatest cycling teams. In 2004, the team celebrated such successes like Davide Rebellin's classics triple, as well as 29 other victories and 47 podium placings, of which sprinter Danilo Hondo achieved a large number and will continue to do so. Austrian Georg Totschnig's top placings at the Tour de France and the Tour de Suisse as well as youngster Fabian Wegmann's mountain jersey at the Giro d'Italia were further highlights of the last year.
Heading into 2005, Gerolsteiner signed five new riders to its roster, among them Levi Leipheimer and Frank Høj. The Danish classics hunter left CSC for the German team "because I'm always really thirsty," he joked during the presentation. Talking more seriously later to Cyclingnews, Høj said he aims at Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen this season, "although it is too early to tell you if my legs will be strong enough to be captain then. I do have a lot of experience with Paris-Roubaix so if another guy on the team is better that day I can always be helpful. But I hope it will be me!"
Høj is happy with his new team and finds it very relaxed compared to CSC. "With Bjarne, we had the training camp and something to do all the time, whereas here, we take things day by day. It's a different philosophy. I do like it because it's much more flexible," Høj admitted.
Levi Leipheimer confirmed the easy atmosphere at his new team, adding, "To be honest, I was surprised. I expected a very strict organisation which they have; everything runs perfectly. But I also suspected a little rigidity and there is none of that, it's very relaxed."
Leipheimer's goal being a top five placing at this year's Tour de France, he will be working closely with Georg Totschnig, Gerolsteiner's "other" Tour de France GC aspirant. "It takes the pressure off both of us," he said. "But the more we can work together, the stronger we will be. As Gerolsteiner's aim is to place very high at the Tour, the better. If one of us has a chance to hop on the podium, we'll help each other."
Then there's a small Italian named Davide Rebellin who doesn't seem intimidated by his unequalled achievement last year of winning three spring classics in a row. "No, there's no pressure," he said to Cyclingnews. "It's a new year and I find new motivation to win other important races in the ProTour, as I want to do well in the overall classification. There are a lot of races to do now, also stage races. It will be difficult repeat the three race win from last year, but I hope I can win one classic and maybe another that I haven't won yet," Rebellin added.
Soon, he will become Argentinean to represent the South American country at the World's in Madrid. "After what happened in Verona, I suggested to take my time and do it in a more relaxed way. I'll fly to Argentina to get my passport soon."
Watch out for an interview with Levi Leipheimer in the coming days, as well as an extensive talk with Gerolsteiner's directeur sportif Christian Henn.