By Hedwig Kröner in Paris
Gerolsteiner directeur sportif Christian Henn was a happy man at the start of the 2008 Tour's last stage from Etampes to Paris on Sunday. Two stage wins, moreover being both time trials of the race, the polka dot jersey of best climber and a podium placing on the Champs-Elysees would make any sports director more than satisfied. And the team had the yellow jersey in its ranks in the first part of the race.
Stefan Schumacher surprised many with his first time trial achievement in Cholet, and even more so with the second one, where he beat World Champion Fabian Cancellara by 21 seconds over 53 kilometres. His room-mate Bernhard Kohl, a small Austrian climber, revealed the full extent of his talent by defending the mountain points lead against such other specialists like overall winner Carlos Sastre and Fränk Schelck (both CSC-Saxo Bank), and moreover defended his overall podium placing in a most impressive way in the race against the clock on Saturday.
"It was a sensational Tour," Henn summed it up. "Berni Kohl rode the time trial of his life yesterday. I was behind him, and we had the five-kilometre times of Sebastian Lang. I think I have never had to tell a climber that he is currently faster than Sebastian and that he'd better watch out, as the second part of the course is more difficult... I think this was good for him, too, because he then got into a better rhythm. He then held Sebastian' time constantly."
Henn also had much praise for Schumacher's feat. "Stefan Schumacher, of course, was awesome, too. That he won both time trials was absolutely sensational for us. What's more, he was constantly in front at this race."
Asked if Henn expected this of him before the Tour or believed that Schumacher could perform this way, he replied, "No, not really. But I was there both times when we previewed the courses, and both times he said to me, 'this is exactly the right course for me.' Rolling hills, not more than two kilometres long, that he could just power over on the big chain ring. It was ideal for him."
The directeur sportif wasn't very surprised at Schumacher's time trial performances, and offered some explanations. "Schumacher has always had good achievements in the time trial. He did a good result also in the German Championships. And he just rode a very consistent race here, from the beginning until the end. He was very strong. He didn't have such a good spring, and I think he still had something to prove from last year's Tour, where he was in low form and couldn't do anything. It was just the other way round this year: bad spring, great Tour."
Henn didn't think that Cancellara's efforts for his team's overall victory in the mountains had any effect on the time trial result. "I don't think that the fact that Cancellara had to work a lot for his team and the yellow jersey had anything to do with Schumacher's win. Schumacher was also in the escapes in the Alps, so I think that levels it out. It's just that Schumi was on a roll," Henn added.
As for the continuation of a sponsorship for the team led by Hans-Michael Holczer, he said that he was hopeful a new contract would be announced within the next few weeks. "I know that Holczer is in talks. Of course, we need a confirmation within the next two or three weeks. The rider negotiations are all going on now, after the Tour. Our riders are in discussions with other teams, too, that is only normal. We hope that we will get a positive signal from Hans-Michael within the next weeks."
Henn added that he would like to keep the team roster as it is now. "We also hope to keep the team as it is, more or less. I think the majority of the riders wants to stay with us, too. Here at the Tour, the team worked well together, we had a good atmosphere and greta calmness within the team. That is also a sign that everything is harmonious. I think that until today, no rider has signed elsewhere yet."
With Gerolsteiner's success at this year's Tour de France, the German team has a few arguments for potential sponsors up its sleeve.