By Susan Westemeyer in Gerolstein
Several years ago, at Gerolsteiner's very first team presentation, Team Manager Hans-Michael Holczer proclaimed, "The future belongs to us!" Today he acknowledges that these were big words that he hoped he could live up to. And today he believes he can, saying, "The future is now!" The team presented its mix of talented veterans and hopeful newcomers at its team presentation in Gerolstein, Germany, on Tuesday.
Holczer points with pride to the team's sixth place in the ProTour team ranking and their 23 victories last season, saying, "We have definitely established ourselves in the world's elite." It's not only the number of victories that are important, but the quality, which, he says, "have reached a new dimension." Among these he counted Georg Totschnig's Tour stage win, Levi Leipheimer's overall victory in the Tour of Germany, and Heinrich Haussler's stage win in the Vuelta, the only German stage victory in one of the Grand Tours in 2005.
Veterans Davide Rebellin, Leipheimer and Totschnig lead the team, with each filling a different role. The Italian, who notes that "the team has constantly improved" over the years and hopes to stay with it until the end of his career, will concentrate on the spring classics and the Pro Tour individual ranking.
Leipheimer is looking forward to the Tour de France. "My preparations are going better than in 2005. And like last year I am concentrating on the Tour," the American said. "When everything goes well, a place on the podium ought to be possible. But I have other priorities, too."
Totschnig was treated as a hero, with the highlights film emphasizing his stage win, and is the team's other man for the three-week tours.
"I expect a change in the spring classics," said Holczer. "We now have more possibilities for top results here or there." Rebellin is the captain for the "hillier" races, and Frank Hoj is also a candidate. "When my legs are good, then I can win," Hoj said when asked if he could win Paris-Roubaix. But Holczer is also looking at youngsters Fabian Wegmann and Heinrich Haussler, as well as the two newcomers David Kopp and Stefan Schumacher.
These are some of the youngsters that Gerolsteiner is counting on for the future. There is also Marcus Fothen, who ended his first Grand Tour as 12th in the Giro last year, who is being joined this year by younger brother Thomas, a neo-pro, and Torsten Hiekmann, who has moved over from T-Mobile. "We are especially looking at the further development of our young guns. They are setting themselves more and more in the scene, they are moving more and more into the top ranks. And they are people who are very talented."
The team has always been known for its "family" atmosphere, and the team boasts two new brother pairs this year. Fabian Wegmann may well be riding for directeur sportif Christian Wegmann, his four-year-older brother. Christian, who will work at Paris-Nice, Romandie and even the Giro, doesn't anticipate problems "bossing" his younger brother: "We both know that the team comes first."
Teammates might be forgiven for mixing up brothers Marcus and Thomas Fothen, who strongly resemble each other. They have different talents, though. Thomas specializes in the classics and one-day races, while Marcus "is more for stage races." When asked what his highlight this year would be, Marcus responded, "riding the Tour for the first time." The moderator fussed at him, saying he had expected a different answer. So Marcus explained that the Tour was has professional highlight, the personal highlight would be the birth of his first child in April.
And who knows - perhaps in the year 2030, Team Gerolsteiner will proudly introduce the next generation of Fothens in the "family business"...