By Susan Westemeyer
Andreas Klöden will ride for Team Astana next year, he announced late Friday night. He will be joined there by his current T-Mobile teammate Matthias Kessler, as well as Phonak's Gregory Rast.
The 2006 Tour de France third-placed told Cyclingnews, "I did not want to leave T-Mobile, but the situation there is not clear right now. I'm looking forward to a new beginning and a big challenge at Astana, which has proved itself to be a very good team.
"The main reason for my decision is especially the fact that I will go to a very strong team with riders like Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin, with whom we will be able to accomplish much in the coming season," Klöden added on his personal website, andreas-kloeden.com.
Klöden rejected leader's role
It seems to appear that Klöden himself decided he did not want to be a team captain in the future. Walter Godefroot, former Telekom/T-Mobile team manager and now an advisor to Team Astana, showed himself surprised at the signing. "I am really very surprised," he said. "Klöden will surely not be captain at Astana in any case, because this role clearly belongs to Alexandre Vinokourov."
Christian Frommert, director of sports communications for T-Mobile International, the team sponsor, commented, "In this difficult time for cycling, we offered Andreas Klöden a prominent and responsible position. We accept that he apparently cannot or will not take it. Considering those circumstances, the decision to separate is surely better for both sides."
Rolf Aldag, ex-rider and soon-to-be directeur sportif, also noted that Klöden had decided against the role of captain and for the role of a helper. "Andreas - whom we thank for his work in the past as a loyal helper - would have been the head of our team as captain. A leading figure for the younger riders." Now it will be up to others to fill that role, he noted. "We will have a strong team next year, that will fullfill our expectations not just on the bike."
Incoming general manager Bob Stapleton, who will take over from Olaf Ludwig on October 1, called it "a professional decision, that we have to respect."
Klöden had waited a long time for a contract offer from T-Mobile, and offered "no comment" on the statements made by the T-Mobile officials. The team also noted that Matthias Kessler was leaving, and that it had not made him an offer.
Manager Rominger helps build up Swiss-Kazakhstani team
According to Swiss Tagesanzeiger, Klöden, Kessler as well as Rast have signed two-year contracts with Astana. They are all managed by Tony Rominger, who also "assists" Astana team manager Marc Biver, the Tagesanzeiger noted, and according to Radsport-aktiv.de, Rominger "will have an official function by Team Astana in the coming season."
The Tagesanzeiger had also reported that Gerolsteiner's Rene Haselbacher had signed with Astana, which the Austrian rider denied, although admitting that it will likely happen in the near future. He said, "There are very intensive discussions with Astana, being conducted by my manager Tony Rominger. The fact is that the negotiations are very advanced, it only has to do with the details now." If Haselbacher signs a contract, he will announce it "during the Vuelta or during the World's in Salzburg."