An interview with Marcus Burghardt, October 20, 2005
How does a neo-pro survive his first year at T-Mobile in team full of super-stars? Susan Westemeyer asks 22 year-old Marcus Burghardt.
Cycling is "very, very fun". The races this season "were a lot of fun". Being a pro cyclist "is even more fun". Hanging around with Erik Zabel "and the other guys is a lot of fun".
This happy young man is 22 year-old Marcus Burghardt, a neo-pro with T-Mobile. "I'm really lucky to be riding in a squad like the T-Mobile Team. I will take this chance with both hands," he said at the beginning of the year. He took his chance and did it well, with an impressive season for a newcomer, topping it off with his selection as a substitute for the German team at the world road championships.
Was it easier or harder than he had expected? "At the beginning of the season it was pretty hard, but now I've gotten used to it," Burghardt said in a recent interview. With some 60 race days in his first season, and a well-tailored race program, it was "not a problem to ride from January to October," he said.
However, Burghardt didn't get off to the best of starts. After an impressive team training camp, he was nominated for the GP Doha and the Tour of Qatar - but almost didn't make the trip. Europeans are used to travelling around Europe with only their national identity cards, but Qatar requires a passport. Burghardt turned up at the airport without it, and had to go back home for it, thus missing the team flight. He caught a flight the next day. "That [incident] with my passport was really dumb, something like that shouldn't happen," he said. "I really didn't want to start my first race in my new magenta trikot that way."
His most embarrassing moment of the season was followed by what he calls the worst experience of the year - his next race, the Clasica Almeria, run in freezing temperatures. "On the bike it was awfully cold at times. Fortunately we got hot tea from the team car. That helps in two ways, at least for a few minutes: drinking it warms your body and by holding it you get a little feeling back in your hands - didn't last very long for me, though."
The good times were soon to come, with what he considers the best moment of the season: "Crossing the finish line in Flanders." Not the Tour of Flanders, but his fourth place finish in Dwars door Vlaanderen, an "enormous success" that made him incredibly happy. That finish brought him T-Mobile's 'Rider of the Week' honours for the second time in the season, and praise from directeur-sportif Frans van Looy, who said: "Although he's only 21 years old, he understands how hard and diligently he has to train in order to be a good pro."
Despite the success, Burghardt refuses to classify himself as either a Classics or stage race rider. "I'm still pretty young and don't want to commit myself to one or the other. Both are a lot of fun."
Integration into the ProTour team with its stars and veterans was not a problem. In fact, Burghardt spent very little time with his two fellow neo-pros, and never shared a room with them on the rare occasions that they did race together. His room-mate at the Vuelta a España was Erik Zabel. "Of course it's great to be with Erik. I can get the best tips first hand," he said.
But wasn't he in awe of stars like Zabel and Jan Ullrich? "Sure, you respect them, but they're just totally normal people who I got along with fine." The multicultural, multi-lingual atmosphere didn't bother him, either. "We're an international team and English is frequently the only common language. Sometimes there were difficulties but everything always worked out in the end."
Burghardt's second season highlight came in the fall, with his nomination to T-Mobile's Vuelta team. "Marcus will get another sniff of ProTour action here, and tactically he will have carte blanche to try out things here," said van Looy at the time. "It is another chance for him to gather experience, as well as supporting our captains. It is always something special for such a young cyclist to ride such a big race."
He took advantage of his opportunity and did his best to help his two captains, Zabel and Oscar Sevilla. He considers his best day to have been on Stage 14, where he finished 15th, three and half minutes behind the winner, but more importantly, only one and a half minutes behind Sevilla, to whom he had given much help in the mountaintop finish. "It was a super feeling to lead the pack for two kilometres with Oscar on my rear wheel. Five kilometres before the finish line, we rode right through the fans, that was mega-loud! I was very happy when Oscar patted my shoulder in thanks after the stage."
He admits that he didn't start the Vuelta with any great expectations. "My goal was to help as much as possible - with two captains, there's a lot of work." He doesn't believe he really had a "worst" stage: "If you finish last, for example, you think it was a bad stage, but if you have carried out all your duties for the team, then it can't have been a bad race."
The biggest lesson Burghardt learned from this first Grand Tour was "to learn how to save my strength, because the last week is really hard." So does he agree with the theory that there is nothing harder than the third week of a three-week tour? "Yes, but the will to finish won out in the end."
After the Vuelta, Burghardt stayed in Madrid as a substitute for the German World's team, but did not race. He finished his season with Paris-Tours.
He wasn't quite ready to think about next season. "The 2005 season isn't over yet and I'm not going to worry about the next year." He doesn't plan any changes in his off-season training, though. "Don't change a system that works!" But before all of that comes vacation. "I'll stay home in the beautiful Erzgebirge mountains. I've been underway so much this year that I'm happy when I can stay home for a while."
Looking back on his first year, did he ever have a time when he said to himself, "Kid, you picked the wrong job!"? "No, I didn't. Cycling has always been very, very much fun for me, and when I can earn my living that way, it's even more fun!"
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