Sprinters expected to reign in Germany

Sunday's German Championships in Mannheim are expected to suit the sprinters, with a fairly flat...

Sunday's German Championships in Mannheim are expected to suit the sprinters, with a fairly flat circuit of 12 km to be ridden 17 times by the men and 9 by the women. In fact, circuit is almost too kind a word, as the course is basically out and back, including a section along the autobahn. But, it's the riders that make the race, and German national coach Peter Weibel believes that it might be harder than it looks on paper. "If, as forecasted, the conditions are windy then the riders can brace themselves for serious crosswinds. That will split the field to pieces," said Weibel on t-mobile-team.com.

Telekom/T-Mobile have held an iron-like grip on the German Champion's jersey since 1993, and the team's 15 riders are confident that they can keep the German stripes in the magenta camp, with sprinter Erik Zabel likely to be their top man.

Jan Ullrich is skipping the race to focus on staying healthy and injury free for the Tour. "At the Tour de Suisse it was clear that despite his current good form there are still some weaknesses that need to be ironed out," said team boss Olaf Ludwig. "That demands tailored intensive training and that's what he will be doing at the weekend."

Tour runner-up and reigning German Champion Andreas Klöden will be in Mannheim for a final fling with the jersey he won in some style over a lumpy course in Freiburg last year. But 'Klödi' is ruling out any chance of back-to-back victories in the event: "The profile is simply too flat for a slightly-built rider like me," he said. "I won't be able to defend it on Sunday. But I will be working hard to make sure that the jersey stays in our team circle."

It looks like Gerolsteiner will battle T-Mobile right down to the wire, as the light blue boys have 12 riders in the men's race. Gerolsteiner will be banking on their rising star and top sprinter Robert Förster to take the national honours. "The national Championships are the perfect test for him before he makes his Tour debut," said Gerolsteiner team director Christian Henn.

Although Stefan Schumacher has had to forfeit because of injury, look for Jens Voigt to play an attacking role on Sunday, seeking to benefit from the rivalry of the two big German blocks.

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