Driedaagse van de Panne etappe 3A 2008

Team Of The Day: Columbia Sportswear

June 25, 2008
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Columbia Sportswear
Registered Nation: United States
Bicycles: Giant
Components: Shimano
Key Riders: George Hincapie, Kim Kirchen, Mark Cavendish, Thomas Lokvist
Title Sponsors: Columbia Sportswear

Columbia Sportswear was originally founded in 1988, when former World Champion Hennie Kuiper set up a cycling team that was sponsored by the city of Stuttgart, called Stuttgart-Merckx-Gonso.  In 1990 the team became Stuttgart-Mercedes-Merckx-Puma and in 1991 Deutsche Telekom then came in as the main sponsor. 1991 also saw the arrival of Walter Godefroot as team manager, who signed several top riders including Paris-Roubaix winner Marc Madiot. Team Telekom soon became a German powerhouse with riders like Jens Heppner, Christian Henn, Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Steffen Wesemann and Jan Ullrich in 1994.
Team Telekom received its first invite to the Tour de France in 1995 but only as a composite team, with
Rolf Aldag, Udo Bolts, Jens Heppner, Vladimir Pulnikov, Erik Zabel and Olaf Ludwig were the first Telekom riders to ride the Tour de France.

1996 and 1997 season saw Team Telekom at the pinnacle. Bjarne Riis would win the 1996 Tour de France with then 22-year old Jan Ullrich finishing in second place. Erik Zabel won the first of six green jerseys. The 1997 Tour de France saw the emergence of Ullrich as he won the Tour de France in dominant fashion and Team Telekom also won the team classification of the ’97 Tour. Bjarne Riis won the Amstel Gold Race, Udo Bolts won the Dauphine Libere, and Erik Zabel won Milano-Sanremo that season.

In the 1998 Tour de France, Ullrich finished second to Marco Pantani, but would miss the 1999 Tour de France due a knee injury. After missing the 1999 Tour de France Ullrich went on to win the 1999 Vuelta a Espana and after winning the Vuelta, Ullrich took victory in the World Time Trial Championships.

In 2000 Zabel won the overall World Cup victory, having won the Milano-Sanremo and Amstel Gold Race, while Ullrich again placed second in the 2000 Tour de France to his career rival Lance Armstrong. Ullrich would avenge his Tour de France loss later in the year by winning the Gold Medal in the 2000 Olympic Road Race and the Silver Medal in the Olympic Time Trial in Sydney. In 2001, Ullrich again came second in the Tour de France while Zabel won the Maillot Vert. In 2002 it was Kazakh rider Alexander Vinokourov who began climbing the ranks for Telekom by winning Paris-Nice and did it again in 2003. Vino followed that up
with Amstel Gold Race and Tour de Suisse wins in ’03.

In 2002 Ullrich tested positive for recreational drugs in an out of competition test and was suspended for
six months. As a result, his relationship with T-Mobile collapsed and he left the team and moved to the Coast squad for 2003. The Coast team collapsed that same year, but Bianchi stepped in and became the title sponsor and in Ullrich’s absence, Vinokourov became T-Mobile team leader for the 2003 Tour de France. Vino finished in third place, just behind Ullrich who finished second again to Armstrong.

In 2004, Jan Ullrich returned, but Ullrich failed to find the form of the previous year and he finished fourth Tour de France, while teammate Andreas Kloden finished second to Armstrong and T-Mobile team won the team classification. Once again, Ullrich again was out classed in the 2005 Tour de France and was third, while T-Mobile teammate Vinokourov was fifth and won two stages, including the final stage on the Champs-Elysees. Vinokourov left T-Mobile after that season, while thirteen-year team rider Erik Zabel moved to the the new Team Milram for 2006.

As Operacion Puerto broke in June 2006, it was reveled that team riders Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla were implicated and were excluded from Tour de France. On July 9, 2006, sport director Rudy Pevenage was fired due to his links to Ullrich and the Spanish blood-doping affair. Despite the loss of Ullrich and Sevilla, T-Mobile won the Team Classification, with Andreas Kloden finishing third and Matthias Kessler and Serhiy Honchar both winning stages at the race. In 2007 American entrepeneur Bob Stapleton took over the team and began rebuilding with Rolf Aldag, Alan Peiper and Tristan Hoffman joining as directeur sportifs. This created an exodus of riders to other teams as Steffen Wesemann, Andreas Kloden and Matthias Kessler all left or failed to have their contracts renewed. A new comprehensive anti-doping system was put in place to demonstrate that T-Mobile riders were racing clean. Despite the rebuilding effort the team image was further tarnished by former riders Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Brain Holm, Bjarne Riis, Udo Bolts and Christain Henn all admitting to doping during their time at T-Mobile.

Finally, the end of T-Mobile came when team rider Patrik Sinkewitz tested positive for testosterone during an out of competition test at a team training camp, which was revealed during the Tour De France. In November 2007, Deutsche Telekom AG announced that it was to end sponsorship of professional cycling effective immediately. Stapleton’s long-term team management contract was bought out by the German telecom colossus for a reported $30 million dollars and the squad continued into 2008 without a title sponsor under the name Team High Road, Stapleton’s sports marketing company. In February 2008, the team changed their national affiliation from Germany to the United States and in June 2008, Team High Road announced Columbia Sportswear as title sponsor for the next three years. Look for brilliant fast-man Mark Cavendish to go for sprint wins at this years Tour, while George Hincapie will go for stage wins, and Kim Kirchen and lanky Swede Thomas Lokvist are gc hopes for Columbia.


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