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By Andrew Hood
Gerolsteiner enters what will be its swan-song reason getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Following the departure of T-Mobile from the German cycling landscape, the team can expect to move up as Germany’s most important team.
But the squad faces an uncertain future with title sponsor water-bottler Gerolsteiner closing its sponsorship at the end of the season as well as some lingering questions about star rider Stefan Schumacher.
There was no hint of that underlying uncertainty during its team presentation ceremony, where the team directed by Hans-Michael Holczer put a positive spin on what lies ahead.
“It’s too soon to speak of the end of the world,” Holczer said during the presentation.
To help secure a new sponsor for 2009 and beyond, Holczer has contracted the sports marketing firm Sportfive to help in the search. The company has deep ties in European soccer and other major sports.
Gerolsteiner lines up for 2008 with 25 riders without any major changes to the lineup. Four riders departed in 2007, including veteran Beat Zberg who retired. There were no marquee arrivals, with ex-T-Mobile’s Stephan Schreck and two neo-pros rounding out the team.
The German water boys will be led once again by veteran David Rebellin, who will take aim at the classics and try to make a run for gold medals if he can earn rides for the highly-competitive Italian Olympic and world’s squads.
The mostly German lineup will hope for continued success from its improving sprinter Robert Förster, already winner of stages in the Giro and Vuelta, and budding classics riders Fabian Wegmann and Heinrich Haussler.
Austrian climber Bernhard Kohl and all-rounder Markus Fothen will carry the team colors into the Tour, but both still need more consistency before even hoping for a top 10.
The team’s most charismatic and productive star is Schumacher, but he’s also been dogged with questions dating back to last year’s world championships.
He revealed inconsistent blood levels days before taking bronze in Stuttgart, which were written off as a result of a bout of diarrhea only to later test positive for amphetamines in a post-world’s accident with his car when he was slapped with a DUI.
No action was taken because the incident it was not deemed a doping offense, but nagging questions remain about the bald-headed German’s conduct.
Team brass is sensitive to the demands of the cycling-skeptic media climate in Germany.
“We cannot just pretend that this didn’t happen,” Holczer said, who didn’t discount the possibility that the rider could be suspended despite no formal action from German cycling officials.
With the team’s future hanging in the balance, Holczer knows he cannot tolerate more questionable actions on or off the bike.
Gerolsteiner for 2008