By Susan Westemeyer
Team Gerolsteiner has a "simple recipe" for the 2007 season, according to team manager Hans-Michael Holczer. "Keep on going like before." With 41 victories from 16 different riders, the team can look back on a successful 2006 season and calmly look forward to an equally successful 2007.
If the team had a nickname, it would be "The Originals," Holczer said at the team's presentation Tuesday at its sponsor's corporate headquarters. "We go our own way," he said proudly. That way includes the development of and reliance on young, usually German, riders.
"Young" is a key word. The team boasts seven newcomers, none of whom is older than 25. "Team Gerolsteiner will be one of the youngest ProTour teams in the 2007 season," Holczer noted.
He is also pleased that the team doesn't rely on just one or two captains, but has a broad range of riders who are capable of bringing in big wins. In fact, the team presented five riders as "leaders": Sebastian Lang, Fabian Wegmann, Davide Rebellin, Stefan Schumacher, and Markus Fothen.
Time trial specialist Lang is focusing on the world's time trial in Stuttgart, saying, "My goal is bronze, but if I do better, that's ok, too." Wegmann, who finished third in the Giro di Lombardia in 2006, will be concentrating on the spring classics, as will Rebellin. And at the tender age of 25, Fothen is under consideration as Tour de France captain. "I'm not afraid of the responsibility if it should come my way," says the self-confident young man.
The discovery of the 2006 season was 25-year-old Stefan Schumacher, who brought in a team-leading nine wins in 2006. "I have a lot planned, but I know it will be hard to repeat as good a year," said the tall man with the shaved head. He is looking forward to his first Tour de France based on his Giro performance last year, with two stage wins and two days in the leader's jersey, he has reason to hope for a good Tour.
The team will put an extra focus on the spring classics this year, perhaps hoping for a replay of Rebellin's "three-peat" in 2004 when he won Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, all within a week. Rebellin himself will be a central part of that effort. "We have the strongest team for the Classics and I will try my best to win," the quiet 35-year-old Italian said. Schumacher will be appearing in the Ardennes Classics and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The latter race will also see Fabian Wegmann and Andrea Moletta in new roles. "We're trying something new this year," said Sports Director Christian Henn. "We will use riders in some of the spring classics who have never ridden them before."
The seven newcomers to the team include Bernhard Kohl, the mountain-climbing Austrian who transfers over from T-Mobile, little Oliver Zaugg from Saunier Duval, and Germans Tim Klinger and Carlo Westphal from Team Wiesenhof. The team boasts three neos, Italian Oscar Gatto, Dutchman Tom Stamsnijder, and Johannes Fröhlinger. Fröhlinger seemed destined to ride for Gerolsteiner he was actually born in the town of Gerolstein.
One possible question that might arise in the team's future concerns the sponsor. Gerolsteiner, a bottler of mineral water and other drinks, has frequently stressed the need for a clean sport and stressed the relationship between its clean products and its clean team. The sponsor contract runs only through 2008, and Jörg Croseck, Managing Director of Marketing, said that the company must first review everything and hold discussions with, among others, the UCI, the team management, riders and race organizers before deciding on whether to continue its sponsorship.
Meanwhile, though, Holczer hopes that he has found the right combination of riders for even more successes in 2007. "You always have a few doubts," he said, wondering whether he has put the right team together and brought in the right new riders. He also hopes that cycling can recover from the blows it suffered in 2006. He noted that the angst had finally eased a little, and said, "The way won't be easy, but we will find the way."
For the full roster and transfer information, visit our 2007 Cyclingnews' teams database.