By Susan Westemeyer
The podium of Friday's Münsterland Giro was André Greipel (Columbia), Erik Zabel (Milram) and Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) – three of the top German sprinters from the three German (and formerly German) teams. The order of their finish reflected not just how their race went, but also how their season as a whole has panned out. It also signaled a change of the guard at the top of the German sprinting ladder.
It was Zabel's last road race in Germany. The 38-year-old is retiring the end of the season, after a 16 year-career with over 200 victories. But those wins have been coming less often over the past few years. He had five wins last year, but only one this season – and 32 top ten finishes.
Third place went to Robert Förster, who still has apparently not found a team for the coming season. The 30 year-old had his biggest year in 2006, when he won stages in both the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España, with six wins altogether. In 2007 he won two stages in the Giro, but only four in the season. This year "Frösi" also has only four wins in lesser races, and came away from the Giro and Tour empty handed, with only six top ten finishes in the two Grand Tours. Will those results and his experience be enough to recommend Förster for a ProTour team in 2009?
The winner of the race and the man they were unable to out sprint was a man who is called the strongest man in the peloton, Greipel. He is also a German sprinter riding for what is now a formerly German team, and with 14 wins, has the third-most of any rider this year. "Gringo" is also the youngest of the three, at 26. He started out the year as the first leader in the ProTour ranking by winning the Tour Down Under, and has continued his winning ways over the entire season.
The other big name in German cycling was also in the race, Gerald Ciolek. The youngest of the bunch at 22, he has had trouble establishing himself this season. Columbia has already said that it is planning to be without him for next year, and while Ciolek has not yet announced where he will be riding in 2009, it is widely expected to be for Milram. And his results in Münsterland? He was DNF.