Gerald Ciolek sprinted to win the German National Road Championship in 2005 at the age of 18, then again to win the U23 World Championship a year later and claimed seven race stages this season - all in sprints. With that in mind, Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer asked why Ciolek claims he's not a pure sprinter.
After taking his first ProTour win and an Under 23 UCI World Road Championship victory while riding with Team Wiesenhof Akud in 2006, Germany's Gerald Ciolek stepped up a notch in 2007 to warrant his graduation to ProTour squad T-Mobile. The youngster claimed an overall stage race victory, points, sprint and young riders jerseys, as well as seven stage victories - all of which were sprint victories. Yet despite his prowess when it comes to planting the power, Ciolek touts himself as an all-rounder and says there's more to come.
"I am surely not a pure sprinter and want to further develop myself as an all-rounder," said the T-Mobile Team rider. "But since the large majority of my wins so far have been sprints, of course I'm trying to get better with that, too."
Ciolek won seven stages this season, with his eighth win being the overall title in the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt. That count includes three ProTour wins in the Deutschland Tour; wins that most riders would envy, especially youngsters in their first ProTour season. But it was only enough to put 21 year-old Ciolek in second place on T-Mobile's win list for 2007, as 22 year-old team-mate Mark Cavendish bagged an impressive 11 wins in his neo-professional year.
Despite Ciolek being groomed as the next big German hope, if not the saviour of German cycling, his nose wasn't put out of joint by the Manxman's success. "We are totally different sprinter types and with our full racing calendar, there is more than enough space on the team for more than one sprinter," said Ciolek. Despite his calm approach to his team-mate's success, Ciolek refused to call Cavendish a rival or say who is number one on the team.
For a while it looked as if yet another sprinter might be joining the team - sprint sensation Erik Zabel. The 37 year-old has long been a fan of the younger sprinter and has picked him as a future Tour de France green jersey winner. The rumoured plan was for Zabel to leave Team Milram a year early and move back to his former home at T-Mobile to become a mentor to Ciolek, but Milram has refused to let him go and confirmed the sprinting heavyweight will remain at the re-vamped Italian squad in 2008.
Ciolek says he would have enjoyed working alongside Zabel, who won five stages and two points jerseys in 2007. The youngster was even positive on the fact Zabel admitted to doping, pointing out that it's a positive action for the sport's future. "He is a great racer, from whom I as a young sprinter could learn a lot," admitted Ciolek. "It's not up to me to judge him, but I find it generally good that someone stands up to their past and is willing to work for a clean sport in the future."
The topic of doping is something the team has been unable to escape, despite its ongoing attempts to eradicate the problem, in recent years. The ProTour team was again rocked this season with the positive tests returned by two of its riders. "[That] hit us hard," admitted Ciolek. "It must be clear to all the riders on the T-Mobile Team, but also to all others - cycling can only have a better future if it is clean."
Those doping cases - Patrik Sinkewitz and Lorenzo Bernuccci - were the low point of the season for Ciolek, as were the extended discussions about the pair's cases. Fortunately the shadow cast by his team-mate's problems could be somewhat lightened by Ciolek's own successes. "My three wins in the Deutschland Tour all mean a lot to me and I am more than satisfied with my first year in a ProTour team," he said. "I was positively surprised by the comfortable atmosphere in the team, which I had been a little nervous about before. But everyone got along very well and I didn't feel any pressure from the Directeurs Sportif or the team management. So that just makes it better that I was able to contribute to the team's success with a few wins."
Ciolek took his first win of the season in the third stage of the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt in April. He broke an impressive streak there, as Alessandro Petacchi had won the first two stages, in addition to his victory on all five stages last year. In this stage, however, Petacchi wanted to ride for Zabel and open the sprint for his German team-mate, but Ciolek shot around the 36 year-old Zabel to take the win. "Gerald just needed some time to find his place in the field. Today everything worked out," said T-Mobile Directeur Sportif Jan Schaffath after Ciolek's first win in magenta.
His next win was the overall title in the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt, which he won without taking a single stage victory. He combined finishes of third, 40th, second and fourth to go in to the final stage one second behind leader Luca Celli (Team L.P.R.). During that final stage, Ciolek diligently gathered points and time bonuses at the intermediate sprints to give himself the overall lead by five seconds. "Today we helped ourselves with our luck," he said at the time. "We were the strongest team on paper and in the end we could prove it." Ciolek also took home the titles for best sprinter and best young rider.
In July, Ciolek returned to the site of his greatest triumph - Salzburg, Austria where in October 2006 he won the U23 Road World Championship title. Ciolek must have an affinity for the picturesque Austrian city, as he went on to win the second stage of the Österreich Rundfahrt in a mass sprint. The win gave him the leader's jersey, which he promptly lost the next day in the mountains, and the sprinter's jersey. If one is good, then two is better, and the youngster from Cologne, Germany, went on to win the final stage in a mass sprint in downtown Vienna. Once again, he took the final points jersey.
If two were good, then three would be even better, and that is exactly what he did in the Deutschland Tour. Things got off to a slow start in the ProTour race for the youngster. In the first stage he failed to win after starting his sprint too early and came too close to the spectators. Ciolek got things together on the sixth stage though, where he squeezed past Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital) on the narrow street and took the sprint by a bike length. One day later he repeated his feat, this time beating Zabel by two lengths in the rain on a dangerous course.
The third time tells, and Ciolek won the final stage by beating Zabel once again. T-Mobile led the charge into the final sprint and Ciolek came from behind, shooting around Zabel at the last second to take his third ProTour win of the year.
Ciolek didn't win any stages at the Tour of Poland, instead him came breathtakingly near to ending his season by coming dangerously close to the barriers just before the finish line. In a mass sprint Ciolek attempted to come up on the right side to barrel his way over the line, but he was unable to avoid the spectators' hands being held over the barriers. Down he went, just before the finish line, taking others with him, but as awful as it looked a trip to the hospital showed he was okay.
Ciolek closed out his season with a win on his 21st birthday in the 3-Länder Tour. "It's wonderful that it worked out today," said Ciolek. "When a race ends in a sprint, as a fast man I have to take advantage of it." It was a close one, though, as Milram's Marcel Sieberg came up fast behind him and it took a study of the finish photo to determine the winner.
T-Mobile management held Ciolek out of the Grand Tours this year, to help keep the pressure off and let the youngster develop at his own pace. But in 2008 he expects to be ready for a three-week race and not just any three-week race, but the mother of them all - the Tour de France. "I very much hope to be at the Tour," Ciolek said. "I have set that as my goal. We'll see..."