An interview with Georg Totschnig, September 29, 2004
When one says "Austria", one thinks of mountains or classical music, not bicycles. This country is nowhere near the big three like France, Italy or Spain. However, the cycling universe is expanding, and as Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez Macias writes, it has made a place for veteran Georg Totschnig.
Considered by many to be the most famous cyclist in Österreich (Austria in German), Georg Totschnig's achievements include the 2000 Tour of Austria, two top-10 finishes at the Giro d'Italia and numerous national championships, where he has won the time trial on four occasions and the road race twice.
Totschnig is having a very good year. "I was very happy this season. I trained the whole year for the Tour de France and I am happy with the result at the end of the Tour," he says.
"I needed a good climber with me, and I think we can make better results together than when I was always alone in the mountains." - Georg Totschnig speaking about the acquisition of Levi Leipheimer to Gerolsteiner in 2005
In fact, in his 11 years as a pro, it's his finest season to date: "This is my fourth year in my team [Gerolsteiner]. In the last four years, I became better every year because the team helps me in the way I want to ride races. And this is the best year of my career," admits Totschnig.
Born in a small town called Kaltenbach in the mountain region of Tyrol, Totschnig still lives in this special and gorgeous environment that inspired him to start riding and competing in road cycling races and big tours. However, the mountainous countryside becomes less of an benefit because "the problem is that here we have a long winter."
"There's much snow," he says, "that maybe it's better to live in Italy or in Spain in winter for training. But if you have good motivation and you like the sport, it's also possible to train well in the Austrian roads too."
Perhaps it is a handicap to be Austrian and not Spaniard or Italian then?
Not quite, says Totschnig: "At the beginning of your career, it is maybe a little handicap to get a good contract in a good team. But then if you are in a good professional team, the only thing that matters is to have good results."
Austrian cycling has improved these last few years. According to Totschnig, there are two or three very good Austrian riders, but "maybe the [national] federation is not working as well as I would like it to work. I hope that the federation works better with the young riders, so get more young professionals in the next few years," he says.
Bernhardt Eisel is one rider Totschnig believes holds most hope. "He is riding for Française des Jeux. I think he is the best young rider we have now, and there are other riders in Austria looking for a professional contract, so I think we have some good riders for our national team for the next few years".
Coming off a very good Tour de France this year, where he finished seventh on the overall classification, the Gerolsteiner rider says, "it was great for me".
"I was third [on the stage] to Plateau de Beille [Stage 13] and seventh overall. It was good; maybe I could have done a little bit better on the general classification, but in the end I was happy with seventh position overall."
The Gerolsteiner team has been one of the most successful squads throughout the year with Totschnig, Davide Rebellin and Danilo Hondo as the team's stars. "The whole team is having a good year with good results," admits Totschnig. "We also had good results from the young riders like [Fabian] Wegmann and Sebastian Lang."
Hopefully, greater success will come from the acquisition of American Levi Leipheimer, who will join the German team in 2005. Totschnig feels good about the move. "I'm happy that he is coming to our team, so I have another strong climber beside me," he says.
"I think it's good for the team and also for my motivation and for another good Tour de France next year. I think we can work together very well. For me it's very important that Leipheimer is coming to our team for the Tour de France. I needed a good climber with me, and I think we can make better results together than when I was always alone in the mountains."
Unfortunately for Totschnig, his season ended prematurely when he broke his collarbone at the GP Kanton Aargau/Gippingen on August 29. "Now I have to rest. I don't think I will ride any more in 2004," he says.
Adds Totschnig cautiously, "I'm currently training with a fixed bike at my house, but I cannot go outside because it's too dangerous and I might suffer another crash. I have to wait another week to go out for training, so the time is too short to get in shape before the end of the cycling year. I will train in October, but I won't race any more this year."