Team NetApp is Germany's highest-ranking team this season, but is an international team, with 17 riders from ten different countries and its home in Belgium. The Professional Continental team has set up its headquarters in Kelmis, Belgium, where it has its service course and a house for riders and an apartment for other staff members.
Kelmis is, not coincidentally, the adopted home of sport director Jens Heppner but the location has many advantages, as the German explained. “The Eiffel and the Ardennes are right here. If you want to train flat, the Netherlands are very close by. There are lots of riders in the general area, so it is always easy to get a training group together. Plus all the airports are near: Brussels, Düsseldorf, Cologne. Even Frankfurt and Amsterdam aren't that far away.”
The service course is housed in an old store front, with the team vehicles outside confirming the team's presence. Inside, two mechanics tend to the team bikes and supplies. The large townhouse which the team has rented is more unusual. Up to seven riders can stay at the large, attractive house, with the apartment offering quarters for up to four more.
“This helps the team to grow together,” Heppner told Cyclingnews. “For a team to work properly, the guys have to be not just teammates but also friends. The relationships are much more intensive because of this.”
In addition, the riders are responsible for everything there, including washing and cooking. They admit, though, that they have chipped in for a cleaning woman.
The cooking can be adventurous, as they all take turns, and some are more experienced than other. Michael Baer, for example, has training as a cook, while others are used to having their mums prepare their meals. The important aspects are covered, though, as Cyclingnews spotted no fewer than five different coffee makers and four jars of Nutella on the kitchen counters.
Does everything work out smoothly? “Oh no,” Heppner said. “Sometimes there is a clash, especially between the young and old.”
The “young and old” were present when Cyclingnews visited the house. Michael Schwarzmann is the youngest in the team, having just turned 20, while Eric Baumann is the eldest, hitting 31 the end of next month.
The house currently lodges the basis of squad for the Belgian races: Baumann, Schwarzmann and Andreas Schillinger, Swiss rider Bär, and Italian Cesare Benedetti. The latter is the odd-man out language-wise, amongst the German speakers, but said cheerfully that it was no problem. “I am the only Italian on the team, but it is ok,” he said. “I understand most spoken German, but it is easier to talk English.”