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The Future of German Cycling: The Young Guns Part 3, December 15, 2006.
Gerald Ciolek: A young star with his feet on the ground
He was unable to successfully defend his German national road championship in 2006, but this rider made up for that by winning a stage in the Tour of Germany, placing second in the Henninger Turm race and fifth in the Hamburg Cyclassics - not to forget winning the U23 world road title. Not bad at all for a young man who only turned 20 years-old in September and rode for a Professional Continental Team. What will Gerald Ciolek be capable of doing when he starts in the ProTour in 2007 with T-Mobile Team? Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with the fast-moving youngster as he sprinted through the pre-Christmas rush.
Some young riders might suddenly grow extra-large egos after such a year and go into a new team and season with all sorts of demands and predictions of unlikely achievements. Not this quiet-spoken youngster from Cologne, Germany, who still has his feet on the ground and knows that the coming season may not be a repeat of 2006. "I hope it keeps on that way. Of course I hope for a continuous improvement, but I am well aware that things could go downhill, too."
Nor does Ciolek necessarily expect to be the number one rider on the team next year. "We have a lot of good sprinters and so we'll have a big potential for wins. Since you don't know what the form will be, you can't see who will be number one. Everyone will get his chance, then we'll see."
And he's even respectful of his elders. When asked how it feels to ride against such famous names as Petacchi, Zabel and Boonen, he responded: "I have a great respect for them. As a young rider, you should feel that for the older riders."
But there are limits to this young man's modesty. "You can't let that hold you back in sprinting, but you have to hang in there and look for your chance, no matter who you're riding against."
Which of these rivals does he feel is the best sprinter in the peloton? "From the end speed, I would say Petacchi, but Boonen has shown through his successes that he is the most complete sprinter."
What is it, then, that makes a top sprinter - power, end speed, or the eye for the right chance? "A bit of all of those," Ciolek believes. "Strength and end speed, but you have to have a good eye in order to learn something from every different situation."
Now that he has established himself as a top young sprinter, Ciolek isn't sure he wants to stay in that role. "I'm at a point now where I can decide in which direction to develop. I would like at least not to limit myself to sprinting, and think that I also could further develop my capabilities as an all-arounder."
Ciolek already knows what will be on his racing calendar for the coming year, with confirmed starts in the Tour of Qatar, Tour of California, the Vuelta a Murcia and Milan-San Remo. The youngster will then contest a few Belgium events before heading back to Germany. "Then I'll ride a few of the German one-day races like Rund um Köln and the Henninger Turm. After that we'll plan for the second half of the season," he adds.
Naturally, he is particularly looking forward to some of those races in his homeland. When asked which one race he would want to win if he could pick only one, he answered, "Of the ones that I have already raced, I would like to win the Cyclassics. I liked that one. And as sprinter, of course I look to Milan-San Remo."
Certain races are missing from that calendar, and it is on purpose that Ciolek is not scheduled to ride any of the Grand Tours, yet. "In my first ProTour year that would be too early. And I hope I have enough time ahead of me [to ride them]," he pointed out.
One can certainly assume that he will one day not only ride the Tour de France, but will ride it successfully. What color does he expect to wear in Paris at the end of that successful Tour? His modesty returned in this answer: "Probably magenta. But if it is a particularly successful Tour, then green."
Ciolek is happy that he waited to join the ProTour and had an extra year at Team Wiesenhof-Akud. "It would have been too early [to move last year]," he said. "The comfortable family atmosphere helped me and I could ride a few races in a leadership position. Those are experiences that I had to have so that I could feel ready to take the next step this season."
It is clear to him that he is not the only talented young German currently riding. Which of them does he see as the best rider five years from now? "That's hard to say, since they're all still relatively young. Stefan Schumacher had the best results last year. We'll just have to see who comes up that level or is even better and how consistently the riders can bring top-level performances."
Those who bring in top performances have to learn to deal with expectations and pressure - which appears not to have been difficult for Ciolek. It is a sign of his maturity and quiet confidence that he recognizes the potential problem. "Pressure can quickly become a handicap," he noted. "But when you want to be a leader one day, then you have to learn to deal with it."
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