An interview with Matthias Russ, August 24, 2006
Gerolsteiner's Matthias Russ looks a lot younger than his 22 years, but the young man already knows what it's like to have a pro win and even to wear the leader's jersey in a stage race. Susan Westmeyer finds out that the talented Gerolsteiner has not been overawed by his early success.
Success has come early in Matthias Russ' career. Most riders serve a long apprenticeship before they realise significant results. "The word 'overwhelming' describes it best," Russ told Cyclingnews. "In the moment that it happens, it just seems so unreal and then all of a sudden you know why you have trained so hard."
This is his second year in the pro peloton, having signed with Gerolsteiner as a neo-pro for the 2005 season. His first season was notably short on results. He was lucky enough to be nominated for the Vuelta last year, but had to drop out two-thirds of the way through - his first three-week Grand Tour was a bit too much coming at the end of a long first season.
"It takes a certain amount of time before you can really properly judge yourself and your abilities." -Gerolsteiner Matthias Russ after scoring his first big win as a pro.
Then, the second stage of the Rothaus Regio-Tour this month brought the long-awaited and long-hoped-for first victory. He managed to stay with the leading group on stage 2 until close to the finish, and with five km left he took his chance and escaped - with no less a rival for company than Tour de France third-place finisher Andreas Klöden. The two "worked well together" according to Russ, but the young man was determined to be first over the finish line. With 500 meters to go, he took off again and gave Klöden no chance to catch him. He won by four seconds and raised his arms in ecstasy as he crossed the finish.
As thrilling as this victory was, had he ever been doubtful that it would come? "I am only 22 and have been a pro only since 2005!", he protests. "How many guys are there in the peloton who have never had this 'thrill of victory' in their career, or had to wait many, many years?" Thinking it over, though, he says, "But it's true, when you come into a Pro Tour team like Gerolsteiner as young rider, then it takes a certain amount of time before you can really properly judge yourself and your abilities. Maybe it's better to say I was 'unsure' rather than 'doubtful'."
But the stage win wasn't the only thing that came out of the race. He ended up fourth overall and first in the young rider competition. That jersey, "Is for me 'visual proof' of the fact that no other youngster was better at the Regio-Tour this year than I was. That tickles my pride a little," said Russ. "Sure, the Regio-tour is not the Giro or the Tour, I know how what this award is worth."
The stage win gave him the overall lead in the Regio-tour, allowing him to wear the leader's jersey for a day. "In cycling there are certain things that automatically happen when someone on the team wears the leader's jersey: The 'leader' is protected, the team has the full responsibility in the race, all of the attention is focused on the one wearing the jersey and his team." That's a lot for a youngster, but the jersey obviously didn't weigh too heavily on his young shoulders, as he says that the leadership position, "was not so uncomfortable, and after my stage win, an additional highlight in my career."
He has one Grand Tour under his belt this year, finishing the Giro in 74th place, some two and a half hours down. The Vuelta, "isn't on my program," he said. His next appearance is scheduled to be the Tour of Poland, Sept. 4 - 10.
Russ hopes to, "Continue my steady development in the 2007 season. At my tender age, the burden of racing has to be carefully dosed." A change in teams is not in his immediate plans. He intends to stay exactly where he is. "I have been brought along well the last two years at Gerolsteiner and therefore don't see any reason to want to leave. And since the team management feels the same way, we have recently extended my contract for another two years."