By Björn Haake in Frankfurt
Thomas Kofler, the general manager of the Austrian Volksbank team, wanted his squad to participate in the German races, like Henninger Turm and the Deutschland Tour. With the teams at the mercy of the race organisers, Volksbank did not want to jeopardise its chances and joined the MPCC, which stands for Movement pour un Cyclisme Crédible or movement for a credible cycling. This agreement is not binding, but a Pro Continental team like Volksbank is risking not being invited to races like Henninger if it doesn't adhere, as the race organiser is fighting hard against doping in cycling.
Kofler's squad finally got approved in April, but it was not easy. The Austrian stated that "It was not a cakewalk to be able to join the group. But especially for us as a second-string team it is important to fight for a credible and clean sport." It actually gave him motivation to stay involved in a troubled sport. "I think the MPCC should be a defining step into the future," he emphasised his commitment to fight for a clean bill of health.
There were two aspects that made joining the movement difficult. One problem was the language. "I am not too fluent in French," Kofler smiled and thanked his colleague, Gerolsteiner's manager Hans-Michael Holczer, who was able to function as a translator.
The other problem was that unlike the Code of Ethics, which is only a signature, the MPCC is very careful in who they approve. Volksbank was the 12th team to join, but they aren't even a full member yet. Kofler explained that "We were able to join on a probationary term. We will try everything ... so we can become a full member [in the future]."
The probation period is not an unknown concept to the Austrian. He compared it other sectors in the work life, "where employers hire people on probation." Kofler used to be involved in skiing, so he has a different background and didn't grow up running a cycling team. But he is not completely unknown to cycling, having tried his feet as a sprinter.
Kofler got involved in the sport back in 1999, which shows continuity. From a small team to the Pro Continental Volksbank, the next step seems logical. "We want to go to the Tour [de France]. We want to go where the ProTour teams are."
For that to happen, he will need the help of sponsors and that is not easy. "In Austria, the problems are similar to Germany, but the budgets are ten times smaller. We have competition from skiing and from the European Football Championships [held in June in Switzerland and Austria - ed.]," Kofler detailed the problems with securing sponsorship. But he is drawing hope from the fact that cycling is bigger than skiing in terms of recreational activity in Austria.
Overall, his outlook is rather positive. "If we [as a team] continue our way, we should be able to secure sponsorships in the future." And joining the MPCC will help that quest along, as long as they will survive the probation period without a scandal.