Hans-Michael Holczer — the former owner of the Gerolsteiner team — says he’s back on the hunt for a new sponsor to return to cycling, but admits he’s still stinging after being burned by doping scandals.
The Gerolsteiner team collapsed under doping scandals involving star riders Bernard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher during the 2008 Tour de France and an embittered Holczer turned his back on the sport.
But the former math teacher says efforts to clean up cycling give him hope that he can return to the sport.
“The environment is Germany is very complicated for cycling sponsorships. I am looking to try to come back to the game, but in Germany still, everyone only talks about doping,” Holczer told VeloNews. “We have an image in Germany of cycling and there is a wall around it. No one is able to see the changes of what’s happening inside that wall.”
Holczer walked away from cycling two years ago when the Kohl and Schumacher scandals torpedoed any chances of finding a new sponsor to pick up for Gerolsteiner, which already had announced its intention to leave the sport at the end of the 2008 season.
Holczer became one of cycling’s harshest critics, because he said he felt he was betrayed by riders whom he believed were clean within his team. Riders later said they doped without the knowledge of Holczer or others on the Gerolsteiner staff.
Gerolsteiner was part of the cycling boom that took off in Germany in the 1990s with the rise of Telekom and a generation of riders led by Jan Ullrich. The sport boomed and several professional teams took advantage of growing interest and the Tour of Germany quickly grew into one of the most important stage races in Germany.
Doping revelations and admissions of doping by such stars as 1996 Tour winner and ex-Telekom captain Bjarne Riis, Erik Zabel and nearly every major German star in the 1990s threw German cycling into the doldrums.
“The problem with Germans is that we are very extreme. When Jan Ullrich was winning the Tour, all of Germany was 100 percent fans. And when fans and media saw what they thought was true wasn’t true, they were fundamentally disappointed,” he said. “There is no in between.”
Holczer says he believes a younger generation of riders untainted by doping scandals, such as Gerard Ciolek, Linus Gerdemann and Tony Martin, are helping to revive interest in cycling in Germany.
“The problem with clean riders is that everyone thinks you are doping,” he said. “Before, the honest guys, they don’t get results, they don’t get media and they don’t have a contract.”
Holczer visited the Tour working with Skoda and fishing around for sponsorship deals. He’s going back to teaching mathematics this fall to restart his teaching career that he put on hold more than a decade ago to follow his dream of starting a clean cycling team.
“In professional sport, I believe nothing. Ever since (Davide) Rebellin (tested positive), I lost all belief in sport,” he said. “In sport, the question is what is reality and what is illusion. I would say the illusion is the reality.”