News Feature, January 9, 2009
Everything is new and different at Team Milram for the 2009 season: with a revamped roster and redesigned jerseys, the squad aims to get back to winning with its two new captains, Gerald Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann. The sole remaining German ProTour team presented its squad on Wednesday in Dortmund, Germany.
"I am happy to present a German Team Milram, in which we have riders for every discipline," said General Manager Gerry van Gerwen. "From Spring Classics specialists to sprinters, GC riders and climbers, as well as all-rounders – the team is much more versatile than in the past years."
For the past three years, the squad featured two superstar sprinters, Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel, and virtually nothing else. Only when Petacchi was sacked from the team during the 2008 season did Milram start developing into something more. Yet its riders only managed to score six victories over the course of the season.
Milram plans to change all of that with its two new leaders, but unlike of the pair of sprinting rivals, Linus Gerdemann and Gerald Ciolek complement each other's abilities. Both came over from Team Columbia, and both were eager to take on the responsibilities involved in the captain's role.
Gerdemann is the team's GC candidate, and van Gerwen hopes that the 26-year-old will be able to repeat his feats of 2007, when he won a stage in the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for a day.
Van Gerwen even went so far as to name that as one of his goals: "Linus in the yellow jersey a few days, Gerald in the green jersey, a stage win and a Classics win."
Ciolek made his Tour debut in 2008, taking two second-place and two third-place stage finishes, and achieved those results as final lead-out man for Mark Cavendish. He wasn't Team Columbia's number one sprinter, however; this is possibly the main reason he changed teams.
Emphasising the two captain approach, van Gerwen said, "the whole team stands behind them. It all revolves around those two. They will bring the team to the top."
The Dutchman knows that it's a mistake to want too much too quickly. "We have to be careful not to be overly ambitious, that can be dangerous." But he is still willing to go out on a limb and say, "I am convinced that we can win 25 races. I think that is possible." And to accomplish that, "We are going to be offensive, to be active, to ride for the win," he explained.
Gerdemann wasn't scared off by the prediction. "I see it as a positive challenge. I think we can do it. I think we can be successful and at the end of the year can all be satisfied."
Although eight of the 25 riders on the team were acquired from the now defunct Gerolsteiner squad, Gerdemann rejected the idea that there would be a division within the team between these recruits and the returning riders. "Our first training camp showed that we all pull together." Many of the German riders are around the same age and have known one another for years, even if they have never before ridden on the same teams.
"This is a strong support team," Gerdemann said. "We will have a lot of fun, and we will also have successes." He will open at the Mallorca Challenge and then the Vuelta a Andalucia (Ruta del Sol).
The team's sprint hopeful, Ciolek, is only 22 but is confident and calm about his new role. "It's not too much pressure. I am here to lead the team and to win races. I see it as a challenge instead of pressure." He knew when he signed with Milram that he would face that pressure, but said he was willing to accept the responsibility and challenge in exchange for being the only sprint captain on the team, as compared to Columbia, where he was one of several.
Despite being successful for several years now, Ciolek knows he can't do it himself. "A sprinter needs the full support of his team, in order to win at the last metre." His goals this year are a stage win in a Grand Tour and to do well in the earlier races, "like the Queen of the Classics, Milano-Sanremo. But at my age I still have to see what I can do." He will open the season with the Mallorca Challenge and the Volta ao Algarve, then move on to the first semi-classics, Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Milram also features two new directeurs sportive, both of them German and neither of them new to the scene. Christian Henn joined the exodus from Gerolsteiner, where he had served as a directeur from 2001 to 2008, the last four years as assistant team manager. Van Gerwen praised his tremendous knowledge of the sport and contacts within the cycling community.
The other "newcomer" is actually only changing from a Milram bike to a Milram team car. Ralf Grabsch rode professionally from 1996 to 2008, spending the last three years of his career at Milram. He is expected to take advantage of his direct and close contact to the riders.
The Milram riders will have to wait and see how their new jerseys are accepted within the peloton, as they can probably expect to hear "moo" calls. The 2009 jerseys feature a blue and white cow-patterned design, similar to that worn by the team in the seventh stage of the Deutschland Tour last year – an appropriate design for a dairy products company. Gerdemann said, "I like them. They look good and identify very closely with the sponsor."
The team will also be on new bikes this year, "German bikes for a German team." They will have Focus Izalco frames from Derby Cycle Wereke of Cloppenburg, Germany. The firm, which was founded in 1991, produces over 500,000 machines a year, making it one of the largest cycle producers in Europe.
With all of the German emphasis at Milram, there is one aspect that has not been forgotten – the heavily-damaged reputation of German cycling after last year's doping cases. Two years ago Germany boasted three ProTour teams, but now there is just one.
"I hope that with the young team we have, with the many young German riders, that we can bring a new wind to German cycling," said German national champion Fabian Wegmann. "This is a very difficult time for cycling, that is clear, but this is a beautiful sport, we have to motivate our fans. The last race I rode was the Munsterland Giro, and I saw how many people were out there to watch us, despite everything. I find that great."
Team MILRAM for the year 2009:
Luca Barla (Ita), Gerald Ciolek (Ger), Markus Eichler (Ger), Artur Gajek (Ger), Linus Gerdemann (Ger), Christian Knees (Ger), Christian Kux (Ger), Martin Müller (Ger), Dominik Roels (Ger), Björn Schröder (Ger), Niki Terpstra (Ned), Martin Velits (Svk), Peter Velits (Svk), Fabian Wegmann (Ger), Peter Wrolich (Aut), Matthias Russ (Ger), Markus Fothen (Ger), Thomas Fothen (Ger), Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger), Servais Knaven (Ned), Robert Förster (Ger), Ronny Scholz (Ger), Thomas Rohregger (Aut), Wim Stroetinga (Ned), Paul Voß (Ger).
See also Milram's 2008 launch.