An interview with Georg Totschnig, July 16, 2005
Gerolsteiner has been knocking on the door for a stage win in this year's Tour, without quite getting there. But today's solo performance by Austrian climber George Totschnig to win Stage 14 was right up there with Rasmussen's fine win in Stage 9 last week, as Hedwig Kröner reports from Ax-3-Domaines.
Gerolsteiner's Georg Totschnig experienced the "greatest day" in his life on stage 14, "on a sporting level", of course. The Austrian broke away from the bunch very early in the stage today, totaling over 200 kilometres in front, of which the last 35 were on his own. Stefano Garzelli, the only one left from his break companions on this terribly hot day, had to let go of his wheel halfway through the Port de Pailhères, and Totschnig stayed almost four minutes clear of Armstrong et al. on top of the Hors Catégorie climb. In the final ascent to Ax-3-Domaines, the Gerolsteiner rider continued his bid for victory with a clearly painful pedal stroke, but managed to stay clear of Armstrong's last accelerations.
Totschnig collapsed after rolling over the finish line, where he banged his helmet in disbelief. The emotion was just too strong, and the Austrian lay down on the ground before being helped up to go the podium, where he burst into tears of happiness. "I never would have thought I could win a stage like this," he said in the post-race interview. "I knew I had to break away early to stand a chance against the likes of Armstrong, but I was also lucky. It's the most beautiful day of my life on a sports level, but I have two children, Emma and Maximilian, and that's more important than sports..."
Totschnig, who was a designated co-leader with Levi Leipheimer for his Gerolsteiner squad, was very close to abandoning on stages eight and nine of this year's Tour, and had to bury his hopes for a good general classification placing even before the high mountains of the Alps. The 34 year-old had focused on improving his top ten Grand Tour results of the recent years, but came to the Tour feeling ill with 'flu, and suffering from fever.
"This Tour de France was really difficult for me. I was sick before the start, I had to stay in bed for one week after the Tour de Suisse. After the first week of the Tour, I was very angry and had no more motivation left. I wanted to go home," explained Totschnig, who was further weakened by a stomach bacteria according to recently performed blood tests. "I was hoping for me to get better in the first week, but it just got worse. The racing was so fast, and in my condition I couldn't stay with the best. In the Alps, it slowly got better and today I told my directeur sportif that I wanted to go in a break to see if luck is on my side.
"I'm a little bit behind on condition, so the only possibility was to go away in a break...I was going full, full gas on the last climb. I got to the finish line without looking back and it was good."
Totschnig, the second Austrian to win a Tour de France stage after Max Bulla in 1931, was very happy with his achievement. "Of course it's something special [to succeed Bulla after 76 years - ed.], but I fought hard for it on a personal level. So this victory is really for my wife and my kids. It's important for me, and it does count more than my good placings on GC."
And what about tomorrow's stage, which is even tougher than today? "I didn't think about tomorrow," finished Totschnig.