By Susan Westemeyer
A little team that is working its way up introduced itself to the public Tuesday in a day of superlatives. On one of the coldest days of the winter, in the biggest bike store in Germany (and maybe in the world), Germany's "No. 1 poultry brand" introduced the newest German entry into the pro cycling ranks. Team Wiesenhof-AKUD proudly presented its 16 riders, including national road champion Gerald Ciolek, to the press and public.
After the 2005 season, Wiesenhof gave up the Professional Continental (formerly GS II) team that it had sponsored for years and joined forces with the small Team Akud-Arnold's Sicherheit. Many Wiesenhof riders went over to the new Team Milram. The young riders carried over from AKUD have been joined by German neo-pros and seasoned veterans, presenting sport director Jens Heppner with the challenge of integrating them into a successful team. Heppner noted that he was given a team, "made up of two parts, one older, one younger, and they had not really come together. But I hope that we have now accomplished that."
Designated captain is Thorsten Schmidt, formerly of Team Gerolsteiner, who noted that he weighs six kilos less than last year. After nine years with Gerolsteiner, he says, "it was time to find a new way and a new motivation." His season goals are "to ride successfully and to lead and help develop the young team." The team's real star, though, is youngster Gerald Ciolek, only 19 years old and already German road champion. Heppner noted that Ciolek "handily beat Zabel" in the championship race sprint, and added that after watching Ciolek in the mountains during the team's recent training camp on Mallorca, "I think he has the potential to be the next Erik Zabel." The subject of this praise will be making a delayed season start, though, as he faces exams at the end of this month. And he notes that he lost one of his German champion jerseys during the training camp. Like a typical teenager, "I hung it somewhere on a door knob and when I went to look for it, it was gone." Ciolek says that he decided not to move to a larger team, but to stay with Wiesenhof-AKUD because "I have always felt good here. I want to keep on developing, and I think I can do it best here."
Austrian Gerard Trampusch managed to stand out in the crowd, with his shoulder-length hair, beard, tattoo and piercings. "Hair length doesn't play a major role in cycling performance," he noted.
Is the team content with its new role, or does it want to go further, like to the Tour de France someday? Heppner notes that every rider wants to ride the Tour and to do that you have to be in the ProTour. Team manager Raphael Schweda says straightforwardly that, yes, "We want to ride the Tour sooner or later." So the little team is already looking at its next step up.