Team MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung continued its great start to 2013 at the traditional cycling classic and top-ranked one-day race Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt in Frankfurt on Wednesday, with team captain Gerald Ciolek sprinting to fifth place. Eritrean Meron Russom also shone for the South African team.
The stage win went to Simon Spilak (Katusha) after a dramatic sprint. The 27- year-old Slovenian won the 52nd edition of the spring classic over 200.6 kilometers ahead of last year's winner, Italian Moreno Moser (Cannondale). A few seconds later there was an all-German sprint for third place between Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), John Degenkolb (Argos Shimano) and Ciolek.
"With fifth place, we brought in a great result for our team," Ciolek said after the finish. "Unfortunately I didn't have the best legs today and at the end I was missing the strength.
"The team worked super, and especially Meron was unbelievably strong. You can see that our young riders are learning more and more and growing into their assignments."
Russom was at the head of the main peloton for a long time, keeping the breakway in check. His performance was a major contribution to keeping the pace high in pursuit of the escapees.
"Even before the start, the media attention was enormous. Meron Russom impressively showed our colours at the head of the main field before Gerald brought in his top five finish. If we had caught the escapees, we would have had a podium placing," said sports director, Jens Zemke, who holds the record of 24 starts in the Frankfurt race, from his youth to pro years.
"We can be proud of our guys. Our team set itself perfectly in the scene here in Frankfurt and impressively represented the Qhubeka Bikes 4 Life project."
'I felt good'
Reflecting on his performance, Russom said: "It was a nice race. I felt good and it's nice to be working for the team. I was chasing the breakaway group and just kept the pace.
"It was more than two hours," Russom said, when asked how long he led the peloton for. "After 20 kilometres, Gerald told me to go to the front and help Quick Step with the chase. Three of us, me and two Quick Step guys kept the pace high for about 150 kilometres."
Russom has endured some highs and lows this season, ranging from an injury which kept him from competition to becoming a father.
"I am feeling good now. My legs are coming back and I am happy with my performance. A few weeks back I was having problems with my knee, so now it's okay and going much better, so I am do my job normally."
Asked if he could have imagined that after only a few years of dreaming of becoming a professional, he'd be putting some of the best riders in the world in difficulty and working for someone of Ciolek's calibre, he said, "It's incredible. It just gives me motivation to ride in the front and put the hard work in. It boosts your morale to ride with the best riders in the world and just motivates you."
Shortly after the start, an escape group formed, which affected the whole race. A total of nine riders, including Gemans Paul Voss (NetApp) and Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Belisol) built up a lead of up to four minutes over the peloton, which included many top riders.
On the first of four climbs, up the famous Mamolshainer Berg, four riders could no longer stay with the high speed of the lead group and fell back. About 60 kilometers before the finishing line, the quintet around Sieberg and Voss had fallen to under two minutes.
Shortly thereafter, local rider Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) attacked and went into the lead as his compatriot Sieberg and Voss fell back.
With only 43 kilometers to go, all the escapees were caught by the onrushing peloton.
The last attack of the day came from last year's winner Moser, together with two other riders.
In the end, winner Spilak and Moser were the lucky ones and crossed the finish line with a narrow gap over the speedy chasing field, which included Ciolek, Louis Meintjes and Kristian Sbaragli fronm MTN-Qhubeka.