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An interview with Vladimir Gusev and Tomas Vaitkus, April 14, 2007

Discovery Channel's dark horses

Discovery Channel will be starting Paris-Roubaix without their key man for the cobbles, George Hincapie, who is out with a broken wrist. But the team has two lesser known prospects for Sunday's race: Russian muscleman Vladimir Gusev and the Lithuanian star Tomas Vaitkus. Both have their own strengths, with Gusev being more of a climber while Vaitkus has a fast sprint in his legs, and both have a passion for the cobbles, which is necessary to excel in Paris-Roubaix. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé caught up with the two at the team's hotel in Compiègne to find out more.

Vladimir Gusev
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
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Tomas Vaitkus
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
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Matthew White
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Steven Cummings
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Vladimir Gusev crossed the line in the 2006 edition of the 'Hell of the North' in fourth place, but you won't find his name on the results. Gusev was one of the riders - together with Leif Hoste and Peter Van Petegem - who were chasing the lead group when a train crossing's barriers closed down in front of them, signalling an oncoming freighter. The trio crossed the closed barriers and were subsequently disqualified, a harsh decision. The Russian 24 year-old doesn't like to look back on that race. "People saw everything, they saw what we encountered," Gusev said to Cyclingnews.

On Sunday Gusev will be one of the outsiders for the win, but he has been doing well throughout the current season, with a fifth place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen as highlight. "I am not the big favourite but for sure, I have good legs so I'll keep going," Gusev said. Gusev picks the same favourites as the bookmakers have chosen. "It would be a good experience to beat Boonen and Cancellara."

"It would be a good experience to beat Boonen and Cancellara."

-Vladimir Gusev is going into Paris-Roubaix with a bit of confidence.

The young Russian has many more years to come where he can chase for the win, but Gusev is eager for that first big victory. One thing you can't won't find in him is a lack of confidence ahead of this important Monument. "I'm never insecure, I'm confident... actually I'm always confident," Gusev smiled.

Gusev will be one of the few riders at the start in Compiègne who will participate in Liège-Bastogne-Liège as well. Most riders focus on the Northern classics or on the Ardennes classics, not Gusev. "Why would I? I like that race. I feel that there will be one year that I can win there," Gusev declared. "But right now I take it step by step, year by year."

If Gusev is one of the outsiders for the win on a team that has several men in with a chance, but no clear leader. Last year the American team had their strongest showing yet with Hincapie, Gusev and Leif Hoste all in the front group until two unfortunate incidents - Hincapie's crash and the train crossing - scuttled their hopes. This year, Hoste is riding with Predictor-Lotto and Hincapie hasn't yet returned from his wrist injury sustained in the Tour of California. However, Gusev doesn't see the team's chances as being lower than last year's. "The team is strong as we have four or five guys who can make it deep into the finale."

Stijn Devolder has shown his abilities in the Classics, as have Gusev, Vaitkus, and Bileka, who was runner-up in the U23 edition back in 2001 behind current teammate Popovych, and will get strong support from English speakers Tony Cruz (USA), Steven Cummings (GBr), Matt White (Aus) and the only Japanese rider in the race, Fumiyuki Beppu. Gusev previewed the course with his team, and wasn't bothered by the parcours, not even the new pavé sectors. "They are looking good, very bad," Gusev laughed.

Tomas Vaitkus looks forward to the Hell of the North as well. He believes he can do well on the cobbles, as he's done well in the Northern classics this year, finishing sixth in Dwars Door Vlaanderen and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "Maybe I can do it again tomorrow [Sunday]," Vaitkus declared. "Because when you're good everything is possible."

On Wednesday Vaitkus abandoned Gent-Wevelgem before hitting the Kemmelberg. "I knew that there's a high risk at crashes over there and I didn't want to take that gamble now," Vaitkus said. Not a bad choice if you think about the many riders who did crash on the cobbled descent off the steep hill.

Vaitkus knows the roads around this area quite well even though he isn't French nor Belgian. "I've been living in Flanders since I was thirteen, in Evergem that was. My parents rented an apartment, gave me some money and picked me up three months later. I was living with a Flemish family and to me they are almost real family. They care a lot about me, that feels good," Vaitkus said and hopped on his bike to start his final training ride around Compiègne.

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