By Andrew Hood
Stefan Schumacher is one of Germany’s brightest hopes for the future. The burly Gerolsteiner is an all-rounder who can sprint as well as climb, as he revealed in his grand tour debut in last year’s Giro d’Italia with two stage wins.
“Schumi” returned to the elite ranks last year after racing in smaller German continental teams when his two-year run at Telekom (now T-Mobile) didn’t pan out as well as hoped in 2002-03. He made the most of his chance, taking the overall at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Tour of Poland and his controversial victory at the Benelux Tour when he swiped out George Hincapie’s wheel in the final sprint.
The 25-year-old will make his Tour de France debut this year with eyes on the future. If things go well, he might be able to dream of taking aim at the maillot jaune. If not, he’ll redouble his efforts on winning the classics and smaller stage races.
VeloNews caught up with Schumacher as he was preparing for his run at the spring classics. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: You had a great season last year, what are your expectations for 2007?
Stefan Schumacher: I had a lot of success last year, so this year my confidence is even higher in 2007. I am motivated, especially for the classics. I will race Milan-San Remo [note – he was 16th], Flanders, Amstel, Fleche and Liège. Those last three are really important and I will focus on them especially. The Ardennes week is the most important week in the first part of the season for me. Then I do the Tour. After the first of May, I will take a little break and prepare for the Tour. It’s my first Tour and I am really motivated. I hope to have a good shape for the Tour and we’ll see what happens.
VN.com: Being German, I can only imagine that this year’s world championships will also be very important for you?
SS: Of all the races this year, this is the most important for me. With it being in Germany and in Stuttgart, it’s especially nice for me because I live near to the host city. I am 20km from Stuttgart, for me, it’s one chance in my career to have my world championship at home, so it’s crazy for me. After the Tour I will take a break and maybe do the Vuelta for preparation for the world’s. I’ve always noticed that the guys doing the Vuelta are the strongest in the world’s, so maybe that’s the best way for me.
VN.com: Are you type of rider who likes to train or race to get into shape?
SS: I am in the middle. For me, it’s important to make a lot of races, because I need the racing to get the perfect condition. To get into really good shape, I need races. I have no problem doing some training.
VN.com: You enjoyed a very successful 2006 season, what changed for you to allow the breakthrough?
SS: I had a problem before that I was riding for smaller teams in the years before. Early on, I was a pro at Telekom, but I didn’t have much luck and never got the chance to show my talent. Then I went back to smaller teams and there you only do the small races. At 22, I was second in the German championships behind Klöden.
I always won some big races in Germany, got some good results, but when you’re not in a ProTour team, people always say there is nobody in the small races and he’s not good enough for the big races. I got the chance again with the ProTour team. It was a good moment for me. I learned to win races and I was a team leader, so when I came back for ProTour season, I really was motivated to show that I could also be good in the big races. I wanted to show I could win in the Giro or the classics. Last year was great for me. It was a special year for me because when you’re on smaller teams, you think you are a big talent and you cannot show it, it’s very frustrating. I knew how important it was for me to come back as soon as possible.
VN.com: There are suddenly a lot of young Germans making some big impressions – Markus Fothen, Linus Gerdemann, Fabian Wegmann, Gerald Ciolek – why do you think Germany is enjoying such success among its younger riders?
SS: Ten years ago, there was only Telekom, but now we have three German teams and I think with the whole success of Telekom in the 1990s, there was kind of a boom in cycling. Now it’s maybe easier for German guys to show what they can do and they get a chance. German cycling is bigger than it was 10 years ago. Zabel and Ullrich were really, really successful, so it’s not easy to try being better than those guys. We have good riders and we don’t have to be afraid. German cycling right now is strong.
VN.com: Do you think some day you can challenge to win a grand tour or will you become more of a classics specialist?
SS: I don’t know. I don’t have too much experience. My first three-week tour was the Giro, but I don’t have a lot of experience in the high mountains. I have to see how I can do. I know in climbs during the classics with three to five Ks, I’m one of the best in the world when I have good shape. When it’s 20-25 Ks, I can do it, but if I can be one day one of the best riders in the high mountains, I don’t know. I am 68-69kg when I am really skinny. The weight is not the problem. Armstrong or Ullrich were more than 70kg. It’s another mentality. Your body has to adapt and train for it. I think I can be good in the Tour because I’ve showed I can win stage races of one week. This year I don’t want to have too much pressure for GC. My big goal is try to win a stage. I am 26 this year; I will try, but I we will see.
VN.com: Your win last year at the Eneco Tour was very controversial, do you think the jury made the right decision? Have you spoken with Hincapie since then?
SS: I haven’t seen him since the race. We spoke after the race in the tent waiting for the jury; it was such a stupid situation. I couldn’t believe it in this moment. I didn’t make any mistakes. I got hit from a supporter. It was so dangerous. I never crashed. I was shocked in the first moment and didn’t feel that someone crashed behind me. I was so focused on the sprint because I knew if I took some seconds I could win the race. Then in the next moment I heard I was third, that someone beat me and then I realized I took four seconds and George didn’t take any bonuses and I thought, well, I won the whole race. Then I turned around and saw George lying on the ground. I knew that it will be a really stupid situation and I will get a lot of stress. They had such a strong team and they rode the last two days; in the last 50m he crashed. I could understand that he would be so angry. I didn’t do anything wrong.
I saw on Belgian TV later in a view from the helicopter that a fan hit my arm and I lost my hand on the handlebar, then I had to correct it. In this moment, two or three meters it was hard for me to stay on the bike. It was really shit to win a ProTour stage race like that. At first, George was really angry with me. I explained to him I did nothing wrong and that I felt sorry for him. He said, “okay, Schumi, but it’s real shit for us, because if I win, it’s shit, and if you win, it’s shit. It’s shit for both of us.”
Normally it would be a big success for me, but I couldn’t enjoy it in this moment. In the end, I had more luck than him. The whole situation was shit. There was so much stress, so it’s too bad.