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An interview with Viatcheslav Ekimov

Ekimov is back in three months!

By Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator

All the numerous Eki fans all over the world are sure to breathe a great sigh of relief. Remember how disappointed we all were when the double Olympic champion announced his retirement last autumn? In everyone's mind's eye he was still climbing the highest passes of the Tour with the front group (being a top time trialist, not a mountain goat) or setting the pace in spring classics. He was as strong as ever and there was no logical reason for calling it a day. Today (April 2), as he's reached an agreement with US Postal's Directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel and has started to put in final touches to his already decent form, Ekimov is open for discussion.

V.E. I needed this period of rest, there's no doubt about that. Even medical tests showed I'd got kind of deadlocked internally. But never say never - is a universal formula. Frankly speaking, when I made up my mind on working with the ITERA team, I already thought of a possible comeback in its lineup next season. To perform a role of a riding coach, yet not putting aside ambitions of my own.

Neither I nor ITERA's boss Alexander Kouznetsov were willing to make the scheme public, and it turned out that we were right. To shoulder two loads at once proved a bit too much for me. On the other hand, as soon as I felt refreshed after the off-season period, the desire of riding in serious was there again almost immediately. I started putting in kilometres - about three hours a day of steady tempo.

C.N. Of a VERY steady tempo. When you came to Krylatskoye velodrome in Moscow at the beginning of March and rode your track bike no slower than totally fit six-day men, they started asking each other: Don't you think it's a trifle too brisk for recreational riding?

V.E. Well, of course I was well on my way back at that moment, but the way in which I would re-enter the pro peloton, was not clear. Or, let's put it like that: I was afraid to scare off my good fortune.

C.N. Today I hope the time has come for intense training and getting your battle machine ready for the start. The time for knocking wood is gone?

V.E. Well, by now we have discussed the detail of my future programme with Bruyneel and it's almost shaped up. My season's debut will be at the Tour, not of France but of Austria, than a couple of Spanish races (Tour of Burgos is going to be a substantial fitness test), after that Tour of Holland. By the time Vuelta starts I hope to be ready for the battle. The climax of the season, if everything goes well, will be the World championship. Both time trial and road race courses suit my ability.

C.N. So the fans will be able to see you in Moscow at the end of June at the Russian championships where the squad will be selected?

V.E. Yes, it's likely to be my first start on the national level. I believe the second half of 2002 season will be long enough for me and the team to clearly see whether I am able of anything big in this sport. If everything is OK, then I am ready to ride two more years. And I'm really glad that USPS has given me a chance to have yet another try at it.

Viatcheslav Ekimov's comeback scenario looks astonishingly similar to a story from the year of 2001. Although the cause of a lengthy absence of its main protagonist was totally different. Richard Virenque was also given a chance by a top squad with budget papers already locked up in a safe. It was a terrific challenge to ride for one's own future and prestige. The Frenchman stood up to it, winning Paris-Tours and looking excellent at the Vuelta. The formula seems to work. We hope to see one more proof.


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