In 2014, Timo Schäfer and Matthias Schnapka started the first professional cycling team in Saarland. In a federal state that hosted the biggest events in the world of cycling before professional cycling in Germany fell into a deep crisis.
A lot of things were done differently, sometimes causing the traditionalists in cycling to frown. A professional team with the name of a club, supporting African athletes, racing in the remotest parts of the world. However, the team has long since moved away from being an exotic outsider. The successes and the high-quality race calendar speak for themselves and make the team one of the most successful continental teams in a global comparison.
Great athletes like Nikodemus Holler, Lucas Carstensen but also Adne van Engelen were also responsible for all of this.
Holler was the most successful German continental rider in general classifications in the past few years. Among his successes were the overall victory at the Tour of Thailand and two stage wins at the Tour Hongrie. At BIKE AID, Holler found the space to flourish. "Niko is a strong character who cannot be squeezed into a pattern. Our team has benefited a lot from him. Especially because, in addition to his own successes, he always had an eye for the team and is an absolute ace tactically," says Matthias Schnapka.
However, Holler has not been able to compete in any races since spring. After a crash at the Tour of Turkey, other health problems arose, which he suffered from for a long time. However, it looks like he will be able to resolve them and pin on a race number again next season. "Nevertheless, it is time for us to say goodbye to Niko after eight years. This is not easy for us. He has played a major role in shaping our team. He took up a lot of space, which was good. But at a certain point we need this space for new developments, space for young riders. We wish Niko all the best and hope to see him back in the peloton as a motivated competitor," says Matthias Schnapka.
What Holler represents in terms of general classification, his teammate Lucas Carstensen is in the sprint. His list of UCI victories is long and is likely to be a record for a German continental rider. "We are also in an inner struggle with Lucas. We have celebrated so many great victories with him in six years, you don't want to let go of such an athlete. But Lucas' heart beats more and more for Asia. These races are an integral part of our calendar but we also want to be successful in Europe. Lucas now got a chance in a Thai team, which is the right way for him and gives us the opportunity to focus on new riders in the sprint", says Matthias Schnapka.
Adne van Engelen has also been one of the team's defining riders over the past six years. Even though it took the climber a long time to get his first UCI victory, he rode to many great results whenever the roads got steep. "Like Lucas and Niko, Adne is an absolute individualist who we were proud to have on our team. Adne needs mountains and good weather. And just like Lucas, he is also drawn to Thailand for personal matters. So it is only logical that he joins a team there. However, we also have a long-standing friendship with Adne, and he has contributed a lot to the development of the team. That he will continue to do so, even though he will wear a different jersey, shows his loyalty to our project," says Matthias Schnapka.
For 2023, the team from Saarland is making the biggest cut in its history. In addition to the trio of Holler, Carstensen and Van Engelen, a whole eight riders - Sebastian Niehues, Jesse de Rooij, Salim Kipkemboi, Jesse Ewart and Julian Lino - will leave the team.
"It is important to note that we did not make it easy for ourselves with these decisions. All the riders are good guys who are nice to have in a team. But if we want to develop the project further, we need a breath of fresh air at some point. Things become ingrained, which makes the flexibility for new ideas dwindle. However, we want to push our project forward with the goal of getting as many people as possible excited about cycling and bringing professional cycling back to the forefront in Germany. Of course, filling the sporting gap is not that easy when we let such great athletes go. But if we only stick to what we have achieved so far, we will not develop further. We are looking forward to many new, motivated riders in our team. However, riders like Jasper Pahlke, Enzo Decker, Wesley Mol and Léo Bouvier will remain and will now get the chance for their own success. And the Eritrean Dawit Yemane, who will hopefully be the next African to make it to the top with us," says Matthias Schnapka.
In addition, there will be some changes in team management. "I am proud of what we have achieved so far with this project. Especially because we didn't have any structures for professional cycling in our region before and have only come this far thanks to our passion and motivation. Unfortunately, it is time for me to say goodbye. The balancing act between a normal working life and a project like this is impossible in the long run. These were great years, but they also required a maximum of energy," says Timo Schäfer.
Together with Matthias Schnapka, he founded the team and both were active riders in the team themselves for a long time. This certainly also shaped the special atmosphere in the team, where the athletes were involved in many decisions on an equal footing. From 2023 onwards, Matthias Schnapka will also no longer be actively involved in the team as a rider, which will allow him to focus fully on the further development of the project. Even though he does not want to change anything about the basic atmosphere of "a team of athletes for athletes". In addition, the Dutchman Anton Wiersma, who was already active in the team as a sporting director in 2022, will be at his side in the management.