They seem to have a special relationship - and Michael Rich doesn't deny it. The Bayern Rundfahrt simply does something for him. "It just turned out that way. The race is scheduled for the time of year in which I start coming into my own. You could almost say that I have specialized in this race." the 36-year-old has already won the race three times, and is looking forward to being on the start again next week.
He has an additional reason to look forward to it this year - it will be his comeback after sitting out for seven weeks with an injury. He crashed during Paris-Roubaix the beginning of April, injuring cartilage in his right wrist and severely bruising his left hand and ribs. The result: a cast on his right hand and "one week with no training at all." As of the first of this month he "can train again properly, pull on the handlebars again," and proved it with a 160 km training ride on Tuesday.
Until then, he kept himself in shape with the mountain bike and the rollers. To make it a little easier, he put triathlon handlebars on his bike, so that he could rest his wrist on it. And even though he is improving, he notes, "It's still not 100 percent. The hand still hurts."
What bothers him especially is the long racing pause. "I'm really missing a lot of kilometres, naturally I have a big loss there. I was actually supposed to start at the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt and in Rheinland-Pfalz. They would have been important races for me." And he is therefore not going into the Bayern RF with high ambitions. "This year I'll be happy just to finish," he said.
In the past, it has been different: since 2000, he was won not only four stages, but has also won the overall race three times, including last year. He lays the basis for all his victories with his specialty, time trialing. "After that I just have to defend against attacks and stay by anyone who is close to me on GC. Of course it's hard, but on the other hand it's fun when you're wearing the leader's jersey."
However, he is not the only one who can claim Bayern as "his race". CSC's Jens Voigt has also won it three times, but won't be riding it this year. "That would just make it easier to become the record all-time winner this year," Rich jokes. "I called Jens up and told him, 'too bad, without you there is something missing in Bayern. It's hardly a real race without you.' But we have arranged to have our annual comparison at the Hessen Rundfahrt, where Jens will also appear."
Does Rich also plan to ride Bayern in 2007? "Never say never," he smiled. "You never know what might happen."