Milram's Master Plan

News feature, January 11, 2006

Team Milram is counting on its "Master Plan" to bring in some big results in its first year in Europe. And not just any results, discovers Susan Westemeyer, who was at the team's presentation in Bremen, Germany. 20 wins from Alessandro Petacchi and the green jersey at the Tour de France for Erik Zabel are among their objectives.

Those were the bold predictions from the team's presentation Tuesday in Bremen, Germany at least. The team, with 30 riders from six nations, ranging in age from 20 to 36 years, is cobbled together with Italian riders from the former Domina Vacanze team and seven Germans from Team Wiesenhof. It boasts not one, but two, star sprinters - and not much else.

Ever since it was announced Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel would ride together, the big question was: how will they work together? According to Zabel, the two sat down with the team management at an off-season training camp and hammered out the "Master Plan" - which races they would ride together and which they would ride separately.

The season's first highlight will be Milan-San Remo, where both have had their successes. So which one is down to win it this year? "When both of us make it in the lead group to the finish line, then we will work together. Our goal is for one of us to win it," said Zabel. Petacchi sounded a more cautious note, saying that the route would be more difficult this year, possibly reducing the chances that a classic sprinter would win. Later in the season, Petacchi said he will ride the Giro, but "possibly not finish it".

There was no noticeable rivalry between the two, in fact it was more of a love-fest. With Petacchi wanting to ride the Spring Classics, he said: "Erik will help me with the cobblestone sections. I hope he will be right beside me to give me advice." Riding with Zabel "can only be an advantage" and "it can only benefit both us to ride together," he said. "We are both fair people, honest people, we are both sportsmen." According to Zabel, "We are both sportsmen enough to recognize the strength of the other. And in the last two years, Alessandro has definitely been faster."

"When Alessandro wins, then it's also a success for me," said Zabel, "but I also expect him to be there to help me." And one of the things he is expected to help with is the Tour de France. "The sponsor has a great interest in the Tour. So do I," noted the German. "The green jersey is worth a try."

Many teams and riders scout out the TdF mountain stages, but a sprinter's team naturally concentrates on other aspects. Team business manager Gerry van Gerwen noted that the team will check out the flat stages and assumed sprint finishes, "so that we don't get surprised by a traffic circle or something."

Petacchi hopes to round out things with some of the late season races. "They are exhausting but I would like to try them," he said, in particular Paris-Tours.

The last question Zabel was asked was whether he expected any aggression from T-Mobile riders in the upcoming season, particularly in sprint finishes, as a sort of "revenge" for his having left the team. Visibly surprised at the suggestion, Zabel noted "a certain amount of aggression is normal in racing between rivals, and I don't expect anything more than that."

Besides, he added impishly, "They won't have a chance because our sprinter's train will have us far ahead of them at the finish!"

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