From the powder-blue kits to the little town whose name they wear, Gerolsteiner's pleasant image seems like an anomaly in Cycling. What can you possibly dislike about them? Their website is full of rider profiles marked by ebullient little phrases and future hopes. They also are firmly entrenched in the underdog role, behind behemoth T-Mobile, Germany's far more-heralded team... even though Gerolsteiner has had better results the last few years.
It's been a nice ride, from Davide Rebellin's shocking treble of wins in 2004 (Amstel, La Fleche, Liege) to Levi Leipheimer's dramatic attack on Ullrich and co. in the 2005 DeutschlandTour, along with the usual high placings and stage wins here and there. The question is, where the hell is this going?
Gerolsteiner have half a dozen guys who can surprise the field in any kind of stage save for the high mountains. Fabian Wegmann, Stefan Schumacher, Robert Forster, Bernhard Kohl, Seb Lang, Heinrich Haussler.... That said, I don't see where any of these guys will feature, anywhere. Guys like David Kopp, Haussler, Matthias Russ, Fothen -- all of these guys are young, homegrown talent which could blossom in the near future. But even there, what does this mean? Contador is 24, Cunego and Valverde are just getting started, new Spanish and Italian talents are emerging weekly... and winning. So what if some young Germans might be pretty good?
I guess the theme for this team is that they can't keep up with the furious developments in the sport. They have a middlin budget which they've used to pack the peloton with competent riders, but simply don't have a #1-type guy for anything.
Well, except Tintin Rebellin. Sweeping Amstel-Liege week has guaranteed him a place in the squad for the Ardennes for the rest of his natural life, something I wouldn't take issue with. That week was truly memorable. But at 35, and now completely surrounded by exciting young talent from every nation, he has little hope of repeating even one of those wins, let alone all three. Bernhard Kohl is, as usual, a competent backup. Will he win anything? Hell no. A top ten is more likely.
Back on the cobbles, Gerolsteiner will field a team of hopefuls like Lang, Schumacher, Haussler, maybe Kopp or Forster, and none of them will be heard from in the last 30 km. They could send Fothen or Schumacher after the Tour de Georgia, but with Leipheimer out of the fold, they've lost interest in America and won't attend. They'll hope to improve on Fothen's 15th at the Tour, or maybe Fabian Wegmann will hold the climbers' jersey a bit longer. Then they'll no doubt get their pound of flesh in the DeutschlandTour. Whatever!
Gerolsteiner are trying to build a young, clean, plugging, likeable German team for the home crowd. As long as the home crowd is more interested in their friendly image than in winning, I am sure their plans will take flight. But as a going concern in the Pro Tour, I haven't the slightest idea where they are actually going. Hoefully their disintegration at Paris-Nice isn't a foretelling.