MILAN (VN) — Linus Gerdemann returns to the professional peloton full of confidence after a year off. The German, who once led the Tour de France, signed a two-year deal with Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka team. He starts in Gabon next month but aims to be in shape for the Giro d’Italia in May.
“I’m confident,” Gerdemann told VeloNews. “My impressions are good. I’ve been able to train hard. I don’t think [a year off] is a huge problem.”
The 31-year-old sounds similar to Luxembourg’s Andy or Frank Schleck when he speaks. He began his professional career with the same team, CSC, in 2005 and nearly ended it with the Schleck brothers last year at RadioShack-Leopard. Along the way, he raced for T-Mobile/Highroad and Milram. He won a stage and wore the yellow jersey in the 2007 Tour de France, conquered his home tour in 2008, and added a Tour of Luxembourg victory to his palmarès in 2011.
He said that he was not on friendly terms with RadioShack’s former general manager, Johan Bruyneel. They were negotiating a new contract ahead of 2013 but when former team owner Flavio Becca fired Bruyneel, Gerdemann found himself starting from zero. Gerdemann added that the new manager, Luca Guercilena, tried as late as March to hire him but was unable to find room in the budget.
“In the summer, I wasn’t so focused but when I signed in July I was starting to build up again,” Gerdemann said. “I wasn’t rushed to do it quickly. I was slowly progressing. Starting with one hour then a couple of days later, it was three … That’s how I started.”
Gerdemann worries he may be too anxious to return to the peloton. He wants to start slow to ensure he has enough energy for the Giro, which he should race if the organizer invites MTN. He starts at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon on January 13, his first race since the 2012 Vuelta a España. He continues in the Challenge Mallorca and then at Italy’s one-day races, most likely Strade Bianche and Roma Maxima. Tirreno-Adriatico is also on his schedule.
“I want to start well but not too well because I’m building up to April and March,” Gerdemann said. “I don’t want to make a mistake, to be too motivated now and burnt out in March. I need a good build-up. It’s no secret that we want to race the Giro. That’s my goal, to be in good shape there and in the races beforehand.”
Gerdemann is aiming for a stage win and maybe a high overall placing.
“It depends. I don’t know how I’ll go after a year back,” he said. “If everything goes well, if I feel good on the bike, I can go for the GC but I don’t want to put too much pressure on my shoulders for this coming season. If it goes even better and I can stay with the best guys, I am competitive on the climbs, I won’t say no to [the GC].”
MTN, a South African team, began in the second division this season and is Africa’s first professional team. The 25-man roster for next season includes 18 Africans — 10 from South Africa and eight from countries to the north like Rwanda (Adrien Niyonshuti), Eritrea (Merhawi Kudus), and Ethiopia (Tsgabu Grmay).
Gerdemann is represented by the same agency as Gerard Ciolek, one of the team’s four Germans for 2014 and the surprise winner of this year’s Milano-Sanremo. The agency put him in contact with MTN’s general manager Doug Ryder and helped him sign a two-year deal. He has never raced in a second division team but said the difference is small, and perhaps beneficial.
“Maybe as a young guy you want to be in a WorldTour, with all the glamour stuff and having all the races in front of you,” Gerdemann explained. “In the first division, most of the time you are going to races where you don’t want to go. One of the benefits of the second division is that you can prepare much more specifically for certain races. This can be a good thing for me.”