Sprenger and Schiffner sacked

The new 2006 Erik Zabel/Alessandro Petacchi team, Milram, has parted company with team manager Jörg Sprenger and proposed directeur sportif Micheal Schiffner, saying it wanted a "clean slate." Sponsor Nordmilch-Konzern announced on Tuesday that it let the two go only four days after introducing the new squad.

Both Sprenger and Schiffner were formerly associated with the "Stasi" (Staatssicherheit Ministerium), the main security and intelligence organisation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, former East Germany). Strenger was a Major in Dept. XX in Leipzig, involved with monitoring the "politically incorrect behaviour" of suspicious persons in the media, universities and sports, allegedly also being responsible for sending people to prison. Schiffner was not directly employed by the Stasi but was an "inoffizieller Mitarbeiter", (an unpaid "volunteer") who, under the name IM Frank Fischer, reported on West German athletes.

When Nordmilch presented the team on Friday, company chief Stephan Tomat said it was aware of the two mens' past, but had "no problem with it." However, after media reports about the background of the two and alleged uncomplimentary remarks from the team's riders ("The Mafia meets the Stasi"), the company changed its mind. After investigating the matter, they said, "Mr. Strenger didn't just go along with the GDR system, but was a constituent part of an oppressive system." In addition, the company has indicated that it will move the team's headquarters away from Leipzig.

Team Milram is based on a fusion of the Domina Vacanze and Wiesenhof teams, and has already signed 11 Italian riders, including Alessandro Petacchi, and nine German riders, including Erik Zabel. Domina Vacanze's Gian-Luigi Stanga is to direct the team, with Dutchman Gerry van Gerwen newly announced as "Commercial Manager." Tomat said the team will look for another DS.

According to Nordmilch, Strenger will be paid for his activities on behalf of the team to date, but will not get any further compensation. Schiffner had not yet signed a contract with the company. Strenger told the Leipziger Volkszeitung, "I accepted their decision immediately, because I didn't want to hurt the image of the team and the company."

There could be an additional problem, according to the German newspaper Die Welt. Milram established not only their new ProTour team, but also a team for young riders, to be run by Strenger's firm, Construct. The riders on the ProTour team are signed with Stanga's company, Cyclosport, which holds the ProTour license, but the young riders will need a new employer as of January 1, 2006. "We are doing all we can to find a solution to the problems of our young riders as quickly as possible," said Martin Mischel, Nordmilch's director for marketing.

Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer

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