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Who will lead, Schumacher or Zabel?

An exhausting effort

An exhausting effort (Image credit: Luc Claessen)

Each year the World Championships presents a puzzle for the national team directors: who to designate as team captain. It's fortunate for Germany that they have a strong, punchy climber like Stefan Schumacher and one of the world's fastest sprinters in Erik Zabel, but the decision as to who to designate as captain for the World Road Race Championships in Stuttgart, is even more critical now that the race is on the team's home soil.

This question is about as easy to settle as it is for the Italian team to find an undisputed captain each year. Schumacher indicated that the course is good for him and that he wants to take responsibility. Schumacher told German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,"I am seeing myself as the captain. But I think Zabel will not just play second fiddle."

The issue surrounding Erik Zabel as team captain isn't just limited to whether the Stuttgart parcours will be selective enough to avoid a field sprint or not. It also is complicated by his having admitted to taken EPO in the 90's. After many discussions it was decided that either no rider who had admitted to using doping substances in the past should go to the Worlds, or everybody should be allowed. The decision ended up being the latter, but it was not executed to perfection. Erik Zabel was included, but Christian Henn, the directeur sportif of Gerolsteiner, whom Schumacher desperately wanted at the Worlds, was declared a persona non-grata and not invited to the German team.

Gerolsteiner's manager Hans-Michael Holczer is puzzled. "I can't follow the logic," said Holczer, who will now guide the German team together with T-Mobile's Jan Schaffrath. Holczer was quick to say that he didn't want this to come across as criticism. He just couldn't make sense of the double standard and added, "It was discussed differently."

There is good news for Schumacher nonetheless. The federation gave in to his biggest wish and nominated his Gerolsteiner team-mate David Kopp. Schumacher gets along well with Kopp and thinks that the other Gerolsteiner rider can help him. After all, Schumacher still assumes that he'll have the biggest chance for winning the rainbow jersey on the tough Stuttgart circuit, and will be even more motivated to win in a city so close to his home town.

The only German who ever won the World Championship was Rudi Altig, who took the home soil win in 1961. He won on the Formula One race track of the Nürburgring. He has clashed with the organizing committee and was removed from his post as ambassador to the Worlds. Altig sided with Zabel, and couldn't understand why he should be allowed to race all international races but not the Worlds. Altig, who attends most races and often works with the German TV stations as well, said he will not attend any activities at the Worlds. Instead he'll watch the race at home on television, "unless I am at the grape harvest."

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