Big changes at T-Mobile

T-Mobile looks set to undergo considerable change in 2006, in terms of the composition of the team and the management structure itself. Alexandre Vinokourov has already confirmed that he will leave the German squad, most probably to Cofidis, Credit Agricole or to Ag2R-Prévoyance. The latter seemed the least likely due to the fact that they lacked a ProTour licence, but with Fassa Bortolo folding the odds are improving that Vincent Lavenu can nab the slot.

Signing the Kazakh champion would considerably help Lavenu’s case, as well as giving the French team the leader it has been lacking this year.

Jan Ullrich will stay with the team for at least one more year but it is not certain that another magenta regular, Erik Zabel, will continue in their colours. The sprint specialist was greatly frustrated to be left out of their Tour squad but has been offered a new deal which would see him work with T-Mobile both during and after his career. The decision whether or not to accept this deal will be announced by Zabel on Monday.

A total of 13 contracts end this season, just under half of the 27 rider squad. Others considering their options are Giuseppe Guerini, Daniele Nardello and Matthias Kessler. There is a big change at the helm, too, with long-time team manager and licence holder Walter Godefroot handing over the reins to former press spokesman Olaf Ludwig. Godefroot announced his intentions early and took Ludwig under his wing this year to give him a year's experience.

Three new riders have already been signed, although none of them are seen as immediate replacements for the loss or potential loss of key riders. Before the Tour, it was announced that Patrik Sinkewitz and Michael Rogers would leave the Quick-Step team and join TMO next year. Both are young, potential GT contenders, although neither has shown much in this year's Tour. However, they could both be used as helpers in next year's Tour de France, where Jan Ullrich hopes to finally win in Paris in the absence of his arch rival Lance Armstrong.

Another new signing was announced Thursday, and again the team has raided its rival German team Gerolsteiner. 24-year-old Thomas Ziegler will transfer to TMO at the end of the season, and apparently celebrated his signing by winning the day's stage in the Sachsen Tour. Ziegler turned pro in 2003 with the German GS2 Team Wiesenhof, and joined Gerolsteiner in 2004. Last year he placed second in the Lucca Tour.

Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer

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