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By Sebastian Moll and Alexander Heflik, Special to VeloNews
Georg Totschnig was slouching through the lobby of the Hotel Mercure in Grenoble on Monday morning, not looking all too happy.
The Austrian Gerolsteiner rider, from the picturesque mountain village of Zillertal, was not feeling great, just a day before the Tour enters the Alps.
“I have no idea why, but I can’t keep up even with a medium speed in the climbs this year,” the 34-year-old Totschnig said. “I am realistic enough to know that this is not gonna change overnight.” Last year Totschnig made a splash when he came in third in the big Pyrénées stage to Plateau de Beille, dropping everyone but Lance Armstrong and Ivan Basso. The man who had been let go by T-Mobile, because he was deemed not strong enough to support Jan Ullrich, confirmed his form throughout the Pyrenean and Alpine stages of the ’04 Tour and finished seventh overall.
But this year, Totschnig says he is light-years away from the form he was in 2004.
“I have no explanation for it, either,” he said. “I had the flu after the Tour de Suisse and maybe that had a greater effect than I initially thought.”
The decline in fitness, he said, has made him reassess his designated co-leadership role.
“In the condition I am in now, I won’t even be much help to Levi in the mountains”, he said, referring to Levi Leipheimer who was initially conceived of as a co-captain to Totschnig at Gerolsteiner for the Tour. Now it seems as though Leipheimer will be the undisputed number one at Gerolsteiner. Leipheimer says that he has “very good legs”, and that his preparation has been, “perfect.”
Given Totschnig’s problems, Leipheimer’s only helper in the mountains will be Fabian Wegmann – the 25 year old who wore the climber’s jersey for a day last week after a long solo break.
Wegmann, who won the king of the mountains jersey at the Giro d’Italia in 2004, lost his Tour jersey the day after earning it, paying for the strains of his solo break. After Monday’s rest day, however, Wegmann can be expected to be able climb through the Alps with the Tour’s best and support Leipheimer in critical moments.