Six new riders, Erik Zabel on board as performance manager and highly experienced Dirk Demol coming in as a new team director, combined with a deeply motivated Marcel Kittel, marked the team presentation of KATUSHA ALPECIN in Germany on Friday evening.
The 2019 team presentation for KATUSHA ALPECIN took place at the Canyon headquarters in Koblenz, marking the 11th season for the WorldTour squad. With sponsors, journalists, friends and family on hand to kick off the new cycling season, twenty-four riders from 14 countries, including six new riders, were introduced in a multi-media presentation that showed highlights of the past season and shared changes, goals and ambitions for the upcoming year.
Two notable changes include the establishment of the performance department and the hiring of a new head sports director. Team general manager José Azevedo sees both as positive steps in the overall structure of the team.
Azevedo:“Erik Zabel has joined us for 2019. We have created a new department within the team, the performance department and Erik will be the manager of this department. He will be responsible for all performance of riders, as well as materials and will work along with our sponsors to be sure we have the best. He was one of the best riders of his generation, so he also has experience and advice to share with our sprinters.”Working along with the coaches and sports directors, Zabel will analyze training and racing data to stay on top of performance goals.
An enthusiastic Erik Zabel added, “I still believe there is so much potential within this team. Really, there are so many talented riders and I’ve already seen in them the desire to do better and have a winning season. Our main goal in the performance department is to support the riders and help them do better. They understand that they must work harder to achieve the results they know are within reach. We have training camp in Mallorca starting Saturday and the riders will learn their race programs and what their training requirements will be to achieve their goals. I guess you could say I will be monitoring everything in a way it was not handled before, perhaps more strict than in the past, but I feel this is what we need to see results from KATUSHA ALPECIN. Each director will have four or five riders in his ‘group’ and will be in constant communication with the rider so we all stay on the same page. Of course, we also need some good luck next year, but I hope that will not be a main factor as we try for results.”
In the sports director department, GM Azevedo has hired long-time friend and former teammate Dirk Demol to head up the director’s group. Azevedo: “Next year Dirk will be our head sports director. He has so much experience in cycling. He has experience in winning every kind of race, plus he is a person who creates a good team spirit around him and knows how to motivate the riders to make them believe they can achieve results. He will pass on his knowledge to the riders, along with the rest of our very experienced group of directors.”
Dirk Demol, winner of Paris-Roubaix in 1988, looks forward to his work with a new team: “I start my 20th season in the car next year so I can safely say I have a lot of experience. I have a very good history with José Azevedo and I was happy to come to his team to see if I can help. When I look at this group here, there is talent for sure and I’m going to do my best to help them perform again. When I look around, I see so many quality riders, and cycling is my life, so I know what I am seeing. I’m motivated and quite confident that we can see strong results from this group.”
On hand at the team presentation was team founder Mr. Igor Makarov, noting that on December 23 it will be 10-years since the first Team Katusha was launched. Mr. Makarov continues his support of the cycling team, along with other Katusha projects such as Katusha Sports Katusha Travel and Café.
Mr. Makarov: “The political situation around the world is quite different than what it was ten years ago, when we were a Russian team, but now we have turned into a very international team. What is most important always are the people and the relationships you build with people. With that being said, we have a really good team. I am very grateful to Eduard and Roman for joining me in this team as sponsors. I am very proud of this international team.”
Also present was Mr. Eduard Dörrenberg, representing Alpecin in their third year of sponsorship and Roman Arnold of Canyon, who start their eighth season of bike sponsorship for the team and hosted Friday’s event.
Team riders Marcel Kittel and Ilnur Zakarin discussed their hopes for a strong season and will continue in their leadership roles for 2019. Zakarin’s season highlight was completing the Tour de France with a solid ninth place position on the general classification. The promising Russian cycling star hopes for even better results next year.
Zakarin:“This year I will prepare mainly for the Giro, along with some earlier races, such as Abu Dhabi and I will also do multiple stage races. I plan, also, to do two training camps at altitude.”
In addition, German sprinter Marcel Kittel has fought through a tough season to emerge on the other side with an even stronger sense of dedication and focus.
Marcel Kittel: “When things go wrong, it forces you to look at how you do things and where you focus your energy. I am at a point where I am focusing 100% on my training and my races – I realize I need to focus on the basics. I started training early now for next season, I am feeling fresh and motivated to win again.”
With results in 2018 that were not up to the expectations and potential of the team, a re-grouping and re-dedication to the effort is producing much needed enthusiasm for the new season.
Azevedo:“Both Dirk and Erik are good with their communication skills and we know we can do better. Honestly, 2018 was not a good year for us, so we have analyzed our season and made changes that we think will make a difference. Our goal is always to improve the team and learn from past mistakes. I see a stronger team that we’ve been in prior years.”On Saturday the team fly to Mallorca, Spain to begin the first training camp of the season.
The 2019 KATUSHA ALPECIN for 2019: Enrico Battaglin (ITA), Jenthe Biermans (BEL), Ian Boswell (USA), Steff Cras (BEL), Jens Debusschere (BEL), Alex Dowsett (GB), Matteo Fabbro (ITA), José Gonçalves (POR), Ruben Guerreiro (POR), Nathan Haas (AUS), Marco Haller (AUT), Reto Hollenstein (SUI), Marcel Kittel (GER), Pavel Kochetkov (RUS), Viacheslav Kuznetsov (RUS), Daniel Navarro (SPA), Nils Politt (GER), Simon Špilak (SLO), Dmitry Strakhov (RUS), Mads Würtz Schmidt (DEN), Willie Smit (SA), Harry Tanfield (GB), Rick Zabel (GER), Ilnur Zakarin (RUS).
All photos by Kathrin Schafbauer