The German Sunweb rider re lects on a career spent entirely on one team
Simon Geschke reflects on a career spent at Sunweb
I’ve spent my professional career on this team.
I was a stagiaire for Milram, but when the Gerolsteiner team folded [at the end of 2008] Milram took a lot of riders and they told me early I wouldn’t get a contract. Through a friend of a friend I sent the Skil-Shimano manager, Iwan Spekenbrink, my CV and he got in touch. They saw my results, that I’d had a good Tour de l’Avenir and Giro delle Regioni and they were really interested. Looking back, it was a good match. I met Iwan at the World Championships and one week later I signed. When I started, the team was really, really small.
There was no bus like the other teams, only a camper, but for me, coming from the amateurs, it was already pretty special. In 2009 I did the Tour de France as a neo-pro.
The team got a wildcard for the Tour and my longest race before then had been the Tour de l’Avenir. I didn’t do Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné because we didn’t have a wildcard. In fact my only WorldTour-level races before were Flèche-Wallonne and Liège. Starting out at that Tour felt like a really big adventure.
When I got there, I didn’t know how to race or how to get in breakaways. I tried really hard, but I had no idea. I was still just an amateur, really. There were no expectations for me other than to finish. As a team we didn’t get any respect. When we tried to fight for position we were pushed away quite easily. No one knew me or the other riders. Our goal was to win a stage. We got third on one day [with Cyril Lemoine] where we did really well in the crosswind section to La Grande Motte. We were five guys up there and we managed to get one rider to sprint for third. Now ProContinental teams have pretty good riders. Fortuneo has good guys, like Brice Feillu or Maxime Bouet, for example. But at that time at Skil-Shimano, no one had any standing in the peloton. When I was younger I was more explosive than I am now.
In the U23s I was known as a climber and I went better on harder stages. But once I became professional I quickly found out I was not as good a climber as I thought. On the other hand I was always quite quick so my first two victories came in bunch sprints at the Critérium International and the GP du canton d’Argovie. My punch was always something that was my quality.
But now that I’m older, I’ve lost it a little bit. With all the kilometres and race days you do, you just get more consistent. Your threshold gets higher but your punch starts to drop. When Marcel Kittel joined the team in 2011, he fitted straight in.
Everyone liked him immediately. And then when he started winning one sprint after another the team spirit really took off. Marcel started out as a prologue specialist but it just clicked for him in the sprints and he showed he had the instincts for it. His stage win in the Vuelta that year was a huge step forward for both Marcel and the team, which became WorldTour a couple of years later. In 2015, Marcel was left out of the Tour because the team was uncertain of his form.
It hit team morale, but we had another world-class option in John Degenkolb who had won San Remo and Roubaix that spring. When he didn’t win in the first week it was in the back of all our minds to get in breaks and try and win that way. On stage 16 I got in the break and finished fourth, and I was happy. The next day to Pra-Loup, I got in the break again and tried something crazy by going really early. Everything worked out and I won. It was just a perfect day, I was very emotional afterwards - I think I showed how much it meant to me and also the team.