Viatcheslav Ekimov: The last day is the first day

Viatcheslav Ekimov ends his career, but remains in pro cycling

By Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator
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No more Postal colours
Photo: © Ekimov archive

To Francesco Moser and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle this moment came when they were over 40. Andrei Tchmil, 38, is still there (he says only until May 2002 but who knows). Eki calls it a day when he is still as strong as always. This news came as a shock to most of his fans who were certain that the double Olympic champion and 11-times Tour finisher was going to ride until, at the very least, the next Olympic road race. But he decided otherwise. Or life itself did?

Ekimov: My contract with USPS expired this year. It wasn't renewed - as simple as that. Of course there are many people who want me to go into detail but what for? The outcome is the important thing while the rest...I think it should remain between a rider and his former team.

To a substantial extent, it's me who is the key. After the Olympics I somehow failed to outline my top priorities in cycling. It is not a goal just to work for good money after all that I have been through in all those many years in the pro peloton. Bidding my farewell to the riders and staff of USPS, I'd like to thank them for all we achieved together. After all it was the season with the team that made it possible to prepare adequately for the Olympic race."

CN: But why not find a new challenge with a new team?

Ekimov: That's exactly what I have found! With the Russian ITERA team, one of the youngest pro squads in every sense of the word. Its head coach is Alexandre Kouznetsov who trained me from the opening stages of my amateur career [SK: the maestro turned 60 this September, and while congratulating them, Russian sports press reminded that he fostered 6 Olympic champions and some 37 world championships winners]. Besides, the team grew out of St Petersburg's Lokomotiv cycling school, my school for many years. So I found myself at home with them right away, and in fact I had never been up against a dilemma which path to choose when I'd hang up my cycling shoes."

CN: Lets dwell on this a bit. Are you going to hang up your cycling shoes literally?
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Decisions, decisions
Photo: © Bert Geerts

Ekimov: Definitely not! To tell the truth, it is still hard to imagine how I can go on without races, though one thing is clear - it will really not be easy to do without them. As to regular workout, 2 or 3 hours a day will be my hard-and-fast rule from now on. And be sure - I'll ride a brand new bike. As soon as I am back to St Petersburg, I will do some running and gym training, the usual off-season agenda my body is used to.

CN: And yet, following your performance this season, one couldn't get rid of the impression you'd got a great potential left. There's no forgetting the Tour where you climbed 1st category passes from bottom right to the top in front of the bunch, showing no signs of fatigue. Your late season one-day races were also up to the mark - a couple of top ten places. Doesn't it look a bit early to quit?

Ekimov: It's true that I have a lot of strength left and my health is still with me. Well it will be of much use for years to come. Thank God I was lucky to go through all thorns of a long professional career without serious injuries, a case you rarely come across in a sport like this.

CN: Tell our readers a bit more of the team and its sponsor. It's no secret that some specialists were sure that after Roslotto financial scandal there wouldn't be another pro team in Russia for many years to come.

Ekimov: In ITERA gas-producing holding they were ready to take the risks. For them, sponsoring a pro squad is not just putting money into advertising. A strong Russian team is a dream to come true. You have already written that there are more former elite riders on the holding's staff than, perhaps, in any other company in the world, and it's absolutely true. From rank and file workers to the head of ITERA, Igor Makarov, cycling is where their roots are.

You should also keep in mind that the holding now is the official sponsor of Russian Cycling Federation. Prospects are also very important, and most of the riders of ITERA squad are so young that they could formally remain in under-23 group for some years. They are neo-pros today who learn ins and outs of the trade but at the same times they are stars of tomorrow.

CN: But the boys produced some decent results even in their first pro year. Let's remind of a couple of them: GC of the Tour of Rhodes and Russian road championships podium places (Alexei Markov), stage victory in the Tour of Poland (Vladislav Borisov), GP Cuiadad de Vigo (Pavel Broutt).

Ekimov: It's good yet it's only a beginning. The team has many more far-reaching ambitions.

CN: What exactly are the duties you perform with the ITERA squad at the moment?
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The champ!
Photo: © Tom Balks

Ekimov: We are getting ready for the next season. Working on our racing calendar, of course. But first of all, quite a few technical issues are to be sorted out, and that's what on for me as Kouznetsov's assistant now. We are holding negotiations with bicycle manufacturers (most of them Italian) trying to secure bikes for free as a part of sponsorship deal.

It's an ABC of pro sport economy: the more money you spare, the more you'll able to give to your young riders as a bonus for good races. We are also looking for other minor equipment deals but bicycles naturally come first. Nothing is fixed as yet and now I'm setting off to Italy to work 'on site'.

CN: So there is no end of the road in sight. Let the luck be with you and your new team.

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