Robert Förster has seen the highs and lows of his sport. The German sprinter is a multiple-time Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España stage winner. After his Gerolsteiner squad collapsed under multiple doping cases in 2008, he spent two seasons watching from the inside as the Milram squad split at its seams.
Now, the 33-year-old is bringing the vision he’s gained over a decade in the European trenches to the young riders at UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling and he’s looking for wins — whether it’s him stopping the clock or one of the other fast finishers he’ll join this season.
“For me, I’m 33 years old, I have 10 years in ProTeams. I have a lot of experience in the sprints and I want to give Boy (Van Poppel) and the other guys a lot of this,” he told VeloNews. “For a lot of the boys, it’s the first time for them for European races.”
At UnitedHealthcare, Förster and Van Poppel join a core of fast men that includes Karl Menzies and Hilton Clarke, two of the riders that delivered the former to his first win of the year at the Tour de Langkawi in January. While it was Förster who proved strongest in Malaysia, he is after UHC wins more than anything.
“I don’t like the word ‘captain,’” said Förster. “I can win races like Langkawi and can for sure win races in Europe and I want to win races. But I think it’s important that the young guys like Van Poppel also get a chance. I told the team in Malaysia that we make a good train with four or five guys, that it works, and we can change all of the positions. When Van Poppel has good legs, then we change so he can sprint. When the system works, you can change every position; this is important.”
The system at Milram didn’t work. Förster and Gerald Ciolek were the team’s top sprinters — major wins came far and few between. The former knew there were problems and as riders began job hunting those issues became louder and louder.
“I’ve seen in the last few years a lot of great riders, big riders, who don’t work together. They work alone,” he said. “I didn’t have a train on Milram. I worked with one or two guys or alone. Last year, I had 20 podiums, but not one victory. Sometimes it was 10 centimeters.”
Förster hadn’t met any of his new teammates before he arrived in Malaysia. He knew quickly that things were different at UHC.
“The difference is the people,” he said. “It was from the beginning like family. Eric (Greene) the director was so good and all the other five guys worked together. I feel like family. … On Milram it there was no family between the riders.”
“Family” is how Förster described his first four years with Gerolsteiner. It was on the Corso Venezia in Milan midway through his fourth season that the German saw the top moment of his long career, his final stage win at the Giro. Now at UHC, Förster is chasing glory again — for the family.