News feature, April 15, 2008
Equipe Nürnberger is going into its 15th year in the women's peloton with high hopes for another successful season. It will be looking to three of its star riders to shine again this year: veteran Trixi Worrack, former World Champion sprinter Regina Schleicher and Giro d'Italia winner Edita Pucinskaite. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with the three speedy women when they took an evening off for the team's season presentation in, where else, Nürnberg, Germany.
The Equipe Nürnberger team has been a dominant force in women's cycling for well over a decade, building a reputation as a formidable squad which can contend in the sprints as well as the hills. From Regina Schleicher's World Championship in 2005 to overall wins in major stage races such as the Tour de l'Aude and Giro d'Italia Femminile, as well as armfuls of World Cup medals, the team has had plenty of success throughout those years.
The heart of the team may lie in the three riders interviewed here, but other women, like current World Cup leader Susanne de Goede and trackie Charlotte Becker, winner of the LA World Cup scratch race, the strength of the squad has been ensured for future seasons.
Edita Pucinskaite has set herself a difficult task this year. The Lithuanian has three highlights for the season: the Giro d'Italia, the Olympic games and the world championships. That presents her with lots of problems, because, for one thing, a lot of other women are aiming at those goals, too. And how to maintain top form for three months? "I know it will be difficult for me," the 32 year-old said. "The most important thing for me for those three months is to stay healthy and to stay in top form."
"This is an important year for me," she said, "and like many others, my main goal is the Olympics." There she has one major advantage over her team-mates, as she is already assured of a spot on the Lithuanian team and does not have to qualify. "It is easier for me, easier than for the German girls. I don't have to knock myself out to qualify." Lithuania has three spots in the road race, and one is promised to her.
Her first goal this year is the Giro d'Italia Femminile. "It is very important, and I will be very motivated", Pucinskaite said. She won the race last year, getting the race off to a good start by winning the prologue and holding on to the leader's jersey until the second stage. She took it back the very next day, though, winning the mountain time trial and giving herself a 24 second lead over her nearest rival. This time she was able to hold on to it and took the overall title by 18 seconds.
The World Championships are important to her for two reasons. For one thing, she has lived in Italy for ten years. For another, she is eager to have a another chance after a bizarre accident took her down in the race last year. The wind caught the advertising banner on a barrier and pushed the whole barrier into the road, bringing down Pucinskaite and others.
After years of riding in Italy, she decided to sign with Equipe Nürnberger in 2007. Why? "After 10 years in Italy with various teams, I was very curious as to what teams were like in other lands -- a different language, a different culture, a different mentality. Equipe Nürnberger is very professional, and I want to end my career in such a well-organized team. I am 32 years old and starting to think about the end of my career, but I am only starting to think about it."
The team has a lot of young riders, including three who are still teenagers, which Pucinskaite likes. "It's a good thing to work with the younger riders, during the race and afterwards. It is fun to help them." The Giro win last year helped there, too. "It was a super learning experience for the younger riders."
While she may be the team's star, she doesn't act up in the "star" tradition of one whose ego demands everything. "The important thing is to win races. When one of the younger riders is super and does well, then there is no problem for me to ride for her." And, she added, "Winning is super, but second or third is also very good."
Doping is not as big an issue in women's racing as it is with the men, but it is there. "The doping problem exists in all sports, but it is just a small problem in women's cycling," she noted. "We must all fight this problem."
One of the methods of fighting this problem is the ADAMS system, under which the riders can report their whereabouts over the internet, so that they can be reached for unannounced out-of-competition controls. "This leads to a total lack of privacy," Pucinskaite said. "I am always afraid when my mobile phone rings, that they will say I must be home within an hour for a test." And, she concluded, "Only cycling addresses the problem."
Equipe Nürnberger introduced a mental coach this year, for those riders who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. "That was something new for me, and good," according to the rider. "The talent and the head have to work together. We athletes think only of our 'motor' and training, training, training. We forget the psychology and the head."
Pucinskaite started the World Cup series at the GP Alfredo Binda on Easter Monday in Italy, but for her it was more a matter of getting in race kilometres. "I have no problem to say that I don't have good legs right now. It is too early and too cold for me!" It must not have been too cold, though, as she finished 17th, in the first chasing group, just over a minute down.
Although she is Lithuanian, Pucinskaite is also fluent in Russian and "of course" Italian, as well as some German, but with only minimal English, which is key to communicating within the diverse team as well as with the press. "But the important thing is that we can all understand each other," she commented.
Regina Schleicher, the team's top sprinter, is unique in that she is one of the few cyclists whose aim this year is not the Olympic games. "They don't really come into question for me. The course is something more for the climbers than for a sprinter like me."
She has many times proved her sprinting abilities, with five wins last season alone. The 2005 World Champion is checking out the 2008 World's course this week. "I'll see if it is something for me," she said. Also she would have extra motivation to do well in Varese, since she has lived in Italy for years. That is also one reason why she would like to win a stage in this year's Giro d'Italia.
Schleicher has been with the team since 2005 and is comfortable there. "I feel well here, we all get along well together and the team is professional and well-organized," she commented. What more could she ask for?
The 33 year-old was not as impressed as her team-mates by the mental coach, admitting laughingly that she didn't attend that meeting and that "my boyfriend fills that role for me."
Trixi Worrack is only 26, but has been at the Equipe longer than any of the other riders, having first signed with the team in 2003. Why has she stayed so long? "I have always felt good here, and simply stayed here. I never have had any thoughts of leaving."
The 2007 season wasn't her most successful ever, but "I was very satisfied. I try to ride consistently all year, but it just doesn't work out every year." She noted that she preferred stage races to one day races. "In one-day races so much can happen, so much can go wrong."
Like many others, her main goal this year is the Olympic games in Beijing. She doesn't have the luxury of an assured place as Pucinskaite does, and had some critical words as to the German qualification plan. "There are no specific norms to qualify for the Olympics. It is all pretty open, as to which races and placements are important. It is very difficult. You must ride consistently good from March through June in order to qualify, and then peak again in August at the Olympics. How can you know, and plan to be in top form then, when you don't know whether you will be chosen or not?"
Even if she is selected, she doesn't know yet exactly what she will face, as she has not yet seen the Olympic course. "Some say it is difficult, others say not. I will have to see it for myself."
Meanwhile, she is trying "to stay fit as long as possible and to ride well." She, too, was at Monday's World Cup race, to be followed by Vlaanderen and the rest of the Classics.
Worrack likes the new ADAMS reporting system. "I find it good, it's much easier than the previous method. Formerly you had to fill out these sheets three months in advance and mail them in. I would forget where I had said I would be, so far in advance! Now you can update it any time on the internet, just log in and do it."
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