By Susan Westemeyer
Rund um Köln is looking to the sprinters this year, and is expecting the cream of the crop. It looks like the German race on Easter Monday will feature Erik Zabel, Alessandro Petacchi, Gerald Ciolek, André Greipel, Robert Förster and David Kopp.
"Cycling fans can look forward to an outstanding line-up," said Alexander Donike, the race's technical director. "The elite of German sprinters, including Erik Zabel and Gerald Ciolek, will be at the start in Leverkusen." He added, "We are especially happy from the response of our German teams, who are all coming with their top stars."
"The teams and the riders too are aware of the importance of Rund um Köln," said Artur Tabat, who has organised the race for 36 years. "No race means no work. The cycling elite finally seems to have realised that no more races should be allowed to be cancelled. The support of the teams, who are not asking for high appearance fees, gives us motivation for next year." The race is, as so many are, having financial problems.
The race course will be changed this year, and may offer a chance for "escape artists" like Jens Voigt of CSC. "The finish line this year is closer to the last climb. In the last few years the escapees would always be overtaken on the final city course. This will be a hard piece of work for the sprinters' teams," Donike prophesied.
The race will truly feature the sprinting elite. The German ProTour Team Milram will send Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel, who won the race in 1996 and 2004. Gerolsteiner will send Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España stage winner Robert Förster, while Team High Road will feature two natives of the area, Gerald Ciolek and André Greipel, who was the first leader in the ProTour rankings with his four stage wins and overall win in the Tour Down Under.