Fothen still hasn’t got a contract, facing future as a pig farmer
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Fothen still hasn’t got a contract, facing future as a pig farmer

by Conal Andrews at 6:11 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Difficult times for Team Milram riders

Markus FothenSeven years after becoming world under 23 time trial champion and four after he battled with Damiano Cunego for the white jersey of best young rider in the Tour de France, German rider Markus Fothen is facing the unglamorous future of becoming a pig farmer. The Team Milram rider is just 29 years old but with his team collapsing and no contract being found, he is fast losing hope that he could be part of the peloton next season.

Unless something arrives very soon, he appears resigned to heading home and working on his parent’s pig farm. “For German cycling, I see black,” he told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

Fothen is one of nine riders from Team Milram who haven’t managed to secure a pro deal for next season. The others who are still waiting and hoping are his brother Thomas, Markus Eichler, Artur Gajek, Dominik Roels, Matthias Russ, Bjørn Schröder, Wim Stroetinga. So too Peter Wrolich, who has already decided to retire.

The problem comes from the fact that current sponsors Milram/Nordmilch have decided not to renew the contract into next year. German cycling has been hit by several years of scandals and problems, starting with Jan Ullrich’s implication in Operación Puerto, the resulting decision by his sponsor T-Mobile to leave the sport, positive tests by other riders such as Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), the collapse of that team, confessions of past doping by big German names such as Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag, as well as various other scandals involving high-profile riders from outside the country.

That plus very strong (some might say over-the-top) media reaction has created an atmosphere where few sponsors from Germany will take a chance and back a team. The net result is, for the first time in 20 years, there will be no top level team from the country.

“Professional cycling needs Germany,” said Milram’s team manager Gerry Van Gerwen, who worked hard to find a replacement backer, but to no avail. “The question remains whether Germany need professional cycling.”

The issue is not just a short-term one, but one which could have a serious long-term effect. Unless young competitors are encouraged and nurtured, the odds of more big riders coming through are greatly reduced. That in turn diminishes the possibility of sponsors being found for teams and races.

“This is a very bad thing,” said former Gerolsteiner manager Hans Holczer. “Without a first-class team, the structures are missing to promote talent. The current professionals need to go abroad, but will get less recognition and money there. It’s a lousy cycle.”

Fortunately, as Sykkelnytt.no reveals, 14 riders from this year’s team have managed to find places for next year. The best known of those are former world under 23 road race champ Gerald Ciolek, who is going to Quick Step, Linus Gerdemann, Fabian Webmann (Luxembourg Pro Cycling Team) and Christian Knees (Pegasus Sports). Former Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven will work as a directeur sportif with Team Sky, while the others are Wim de Vocht (to Willems Verandas), Robert Förster (United Healthcare), John Fröhling (Skil-Shimano), Roger Kluge (Skil-Shimano), Dominik Nerz (Liquigas-Cannondale), Thomas Rohregger (Pegasus Sports), Luke Roberts (Pegasus Sports), Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) and Paul Voss (Endura Racing).

However, the fact that a rider such as Fothen can’t get a slot shows the pressure within the sport for top-level slots. Apart from his Under 23 world title, Fothen has other strong performances to his name such as twelfth in the 2005 Giro d’Italia, 15th in the 2006 Tour de France, and stage wins in the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse. Stopping at 29 years of age is very premature but unless a team swoops soon, he will have little choice.

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