|Walter says no to Jan, A look at the life and times of this legendary manager and his new Team.
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For more than 35 years now has Walter Godefroot been busy in the world of professional cycling. That’s strange for a man who actually wanted to be a gymnast, was pushed in the saddle against his will, and always considered himself to be a wage-rider. Walter Godefroot didn’t love the bike. He saw training as an absolute torture, and he underwent both triumphs and tragedies almost without any emotion.
There was a time where he was riding alone to the finish in the Tour of Flanders , but got a flat on the Muur and lost the race. Two hours later, he was sitting in his good chair, watching a tv-program. Like nothing had happened. Walter Godefroot wasn’t a sentimental man, but he could go incredibly deep in a race, to the point where he had to vomit. That’s how he managed to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a sprinter, a race that absolutely wasn’t suited for a man with his capacities, but where he managed to finish 5 times within the top 5.
But Godefroot was much more than “just” a sprinter. He got a kick from rolling over the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix. That he won that race only once because of bad luck is about the only thing that he regrets in his great career.
Bölts’ 17th place at the 1992 Vuelta a Espana prompted Walter Godefroot to accept the Telekom management’s offer to take over the running of their new team.
“Udo’s combativity has convinced me that with a few strategic additions, this team can make it big,” he commented
It was also Udo Bölts, who bagged the young team’s ﬁrst success that same year by unexpectedly winning the queen stage at the Giro d’Italia. Just a few weeks later Jens Heppner crowned a top-notch individual performance at the Tour de France with a surprising tenth place overall.
After a string of good results in the Spring of 1995 the team were confident of a glorious summer.
However, Team Telekom wasn’t invited to ride the Tour de France. For riders and management it was like the bottom fell out of their world. “We were really shocked. For us, the riders, the decision of the Tour directors was a slap in the face,” recalls Olaf Ludwig. Long and heated talks and negotiations followed. Finally, a compromise was reached. A reduced six-man roster, namely Rolf Aldag, Udo Bölts, Jens Heppner, Vladimir Pulnikov, Erik Zabel and Olaf Ludwig, joined forces with three Italians from ZG Mobili to tackle ‘la Grande Boucle’ in a composite team. Zabel went on to justify the Telekom riders’ presence at the world’s most important multi-day race by sprinting to two stages wins.
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The big breakthrough came in 1996 with the addition of Danish rider Bjarne Riis to Team Telekom. Walter Godefroot had ﬁnally netted a ‘big ﬁsh’ capable of unseating Indurain, although some journalists felt the Dane was blowing too many bubbles when he declared at the traditional team get-together; “I want to win the Tour de France with Telekom.” The ‘Eagle from Herning’ was an experienced rider, with an impressive Tour de France track record — he had already ﬁnished third and ﬁfth overall — but ending Miguel Indurain’s dominance was another matter.
The Dane, knowing that all reigns must come to an end, prepared meticulously for the Tour and hatched a plan to disable the ﬁve-time champion. He seized his opportunity when the weather turned in his favour the day the Tour went to Sestrières. The mammoth mountain stage, which was supposed to have gone over the giant Col du Galibier, was reduced to just 46 km because the high passes were snowbound. The cool Dane attacked hard and dropped ‘Big Mig’ on the climb. Riis went on to win the stage, and slipped on the yellow jersey that afternoon.
From there, the Dane coasted it to Paris, marshalled safely by an impressive Telekom team. When Riis rode down the Champs Elysees in the leader’s yellow jersey, Walter Godefroot had to choke back the tears. Yellow for Riis, the runner-up spot for 22-year-old newcomer Jan Ullrich and the ﬁrst of six green jerseys for Erik Zabel; Team Telekom was now leading the cycling elite.
The following season Jan Ullrich continued the success, also winning the Tour de France, but from 1998 until he stepped down as Team manager at the end of 2005 Ullrich and Godefroot’s teams never hit the heady heights of 1996 again.
There was undoubted friction between Godefroot and Ullrich, and the T Mobile manager made this stark assessment of his star rider after the 2004 Tour de France.
"Jan rides bikes to earn a living, but I don't think his dedication is strong enough to make cycling an all-consuming existence.Unlike Armstrong, Ullrich doesn't have the killer instinct. He's not obsessed
"[At T-Mobile] if Ullrich doesn't want to race in January, we have to deal with that. If Jan didn't allow himself certain deviations and liberties in the off season, he wouldn't be able to handle the stress of the racing year. It's too bad, because if you mixed the professionalism of an Erik Zabel with the talent of a Jan Ullrich, you'd have an Eddy Merckx.".
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However Godefroot was not long in retirement, he has been tempted back into management with the new Astana Team by another of his former star riders, Alexander Vinokourov.
It did not take long for the German Press to link his name with that of Jan Ullrich, currently with out a team . Talking to the German TV Station ARD1 Godefroot made it clear that his new Team were not interested in signing Ullrich.
" There is no question about it, Jan will not be joining us. We already have three great riders Vinokourov, Klöden and Kasheschkin. We have no sporting reason to find a place for Ullrich”
Marc Biver, the Astana team’s general manager has applied for a Pro Tour licence, but is not expecting to hear from the UCI until after November 23rd; during this time the UCI will audit the Teams finances. The Team, who say they have a budget of 12 million Euro’s is backed by 7 large businesses from Astana and is based in Switzerland at Geneveys-sur-Coffrane.
Walter Godefroot has three Directeur Sportif’s alongside him. Alexandre Shefer was one of the first Kazakhstan riders in the peloton and his third place in Flèche Wallonne was the swansong of a ten year career and Italians Giovanni Fidanza and Adriano Baffi.
The team has already taken shape, with 27 riders under contract, including two from T Mobile, Andreas Klöden and Matthias Kessler. Another notable signing is double Giro Winner, Paolo Savoldelli, but Vinokourov is the hub of the Team. With Kashechkin, Klöden and Savoldelli in support Godefroot may yet win another Tour de France.
Riders Igor Abakoumov (Ukr), Assan Bazayev (Kaz), Antonio Colom (Esp), Koen De Koert (Ned), Thomas Frei (Sui), Maxim Gourov (Kaz), Rene Haselbacher (Aut), Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz), Sergey Ivanov (Rus), Benoit Joachim (Lux), Andrej Kashechkin (Kaz), Aaron Kemps (Aus), Matthias Kessler (Ger), Andreas Kloeden (Ger), Alexey Kolessov (Kaz), Julien Mazet (Fra), Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita), Gennady Mikhalov (Rus), Steve Morabito (Sui), Dimitry Murajev (Kaz), Gregory Rast (Sui), Jose Antonio Redondo (Esp), Joaquim Rojas (Esp), Paolo Savoldelli (Ita), Michael Schaer (Sui), Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz), Sergey Yakovlev (Kaz)
Management Marc Biver (Manager), Walter Godefroot : Alexandre Shefer, Giovanni Fidanza and Adriano Baffi.
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