By Susan Westemeyer
The German mobile phone giant celebrated its most popular employees Monday - the eight T-Mobile riders who arrived in Paris Sunday afternoon. Today they made their triumphal entry into corporate headquarters in Bonn, Germany, tired but happy. They were greeted by a large and enthustiastic crowd of employees and fans, including many children taking advantage of the short summer school holiday.
A DJ fired up the crowd with plenty of music and flashing lights, games and prizes. After a short Tour highlights film, Rene Obermann (T-Mobile International CEO) welcomed the fans and noted the team's successes: three first stage wins, three second places and two thirds, plus the team ranking. He lamented the absence of the injured Andreas Klöden and acknowledged his dubious achievement of the closest second place finish (0.8cm on stage 9) in Tour history.
Walter Godefroot, retiring team manager, said he hadn't been sad yesterday when he arrived in Paris with the Tour for the last time, but "satisfied and proud".
Stage winner Guiseppe Guerini, looking gaunt and tired, received a big hand. Friday "was simply a perfect day," he said, describing his stage 19 victory. "I turned on the turbo and went for it." Tour novice Stephan Schreck admitted to nerves before each stage, but not during the racing itself, saying "When you're not nervous at all, then something is wrong." Tobias Steinhauser admitted that the team had celebrated well Sunday, opening the first beer shortly after crossing the finish line.
Alexandre Vinokourov, very "Joe Cool" in his dark glasses, said he was impressed with the crowds in Paris - "a chill ran down my spine." And the stage yesterday? "I only wanted to secure the fifth place in the GC and ended up winning the stage." Team star Jan Ullrich was noticeably relaxed and happy - happy to have made the podium, happy that the remaining eight riders made it to Paris in good health, happy that the Tour is over.
A special tribute was paid to "the team behind the team" and long-time masseur Dieter "Euele" Ruthenberg was brought on stage with the team for a group photo. It was even suggested that next year "Eule" should have his own autograph cards. It was then time for the tanned but tired riders to face perhaps their biggest challenge of the last three weeks: hordes of autograph-seeking and camera-pointing fans.