Johann Tschopp claimed an emotional, solo stage win at the Passo del Tonale in the 2010 Giro d'Italia after experiencing a difficult start to his career despite his talent as a pure climber. His victory was the first stage win for a Swiss cyclist at the corsa rosa since Alex Zülle in 1998.
His first words after holding off the attack of Cadel Evans (BMC) were typical of someone who isn't very used to crossing a finishing line first. "This is extraordinary. I feel like I'm dreaming. I'm really happy. I'm on another planet," he said.
An hour later, he was still so overcome that he had difficulty speaking. In a hypoglycemic state, he struggled to answer questions in the press conference. After eating some sugar, he tried again to find some words to express his feelings.
"I'm full of emotion," the 27-year-old from Sierre in the Valais region managed to say. "This is enormous. I don't know if I'm in the middle of a dream, but apparently I've won today. I'm thinking of my family. I think of my son Hugo, who was born six months ago. This is the acheivement of my life as a cyclist. I'm in tears."
Tschopp is not used to winning. His only previous success was a stage at the Tropicale Amissa-Bongo in Gabon at the beginning of last year. Three weeks later, he finished fifth at Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, where he missed winning the queen stage in 2008 because he had a flat tyre while climbing up to Fraser Hill. The Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider has often been unlucky in his attempts to break away.
"I crashed yesterday as well," he said. "My hip was hurting, and I thought I wouldn't be able to start today but the doctor helped me fix the problem and I felt good."
He went over the Gavia with Gilberto Simoni, who is taking part in his last race, but he didn't let the Italian veteran crest the top of the highest summit of the Giro d'Italia (the so called Cima Coppi) in first. "A race is a race," said Tschopp. "As for myself, I've never received any gift in this job. It was a great victory for me to be first at the Cima Coppi. Simoni is a great rider. He has won a lot, I haven't."
Tschopp's descent of the Gavia was a masterpiece. "I love mountain biking," he recalled. "As a young cyclist, I started with cyclo-cross. I worked on my technique a lot. That allowed me to win today. I can crash like anyone, but being serene helps reduce the risk of crashing."
He would not explain what he meant about the gifts he never received, but Tschopp is known for being different from most of the pro cyclists.
For example, when he turned pro with Phonak in 2004, he was marginalised because of his obsession with ecology. He would refused to throw any rubbish on the roadside. He's also famous for his firm stand against doping, even as part of a team that eventually fell apart in the wake of doping scandals involving some of its riders including Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Camenzind, José Enrique Gutierrez and Santiago Botero.
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