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News feature, April 20, 2009
Ivanov grabs his Amstel at last
By Brecht DecaluwÚ in Valkenburg, the Netherlands
It took 12 attempts but Serguei Ivanov (Katusha) has finally managed to capture a Spring Classic victory, bringing home Holland's most prestigious cycling event: Amstel Gold Race. Before Sunday's win the 34-year-old was regarded as a rider that's always in the mix during the finale, but falls short when it really matters.
The Russian - who resides in Belgium - was one of the most experienced riders at the start in Maastricht, without taking credit away from good-old Davide Rebellin. Ivanov had finished the race 10 times and cracked the top 10 on four occasions, with 2002 being his best result as he finished second to team-mate Michele Bartoli.
This time Ivanov left no doubt over his intentions as he broke away late with Karsten Kroon (Team Saxo Bank) and captured the win by himself. At his post-race press conference the usually introverted Ivanov was already kicking off the night's party.
"First of all I want to thank all of my team-mates," said Ivanov. "All the Russian riders helped me a lot, and although before we've had wins from [Filippo] Pozzato and others, now we have captured the first true Russian victory of the year, and also the first one over here.
"It makes me proud to be a part of this big Russian project; there's a lot of support for us," Ivanov said, referring to the Katusha project.
The Russian super-team was build on the foundation of Oleg Tinkov's Tinkoff Credit Systems team. Team managers Stefano Feltrin and, new addition to the squad's management, Andrei Tchmil attracted several Russian talents to the outfit, which have joined big foreign names like Filippo Pozzato and Gert Steegmans.
Ivanov fell in love with the Amstel Gold Race thanks to Cees Priem, his manager at the TVM-team back in 1997. "Cees told me this race was made for me," explained Ivanov. "I have to thank him because I won because I believed I could win it.
"The race suits me to perfection, I can hammer up the short, steep climbs, I can battle for positions and I know the course very well," Ivanov said. "I tried to win the race eight times. Now I'm 34 and in great condition. I'm very glad and happy."
Back in 2002, when Amstel Gold Race was a World Cup round, the Russian was part of the four-man leader's group that battled for the win, a group which included Lance Armstrong, Michael Boogerd and Bartoli. Ivanov was riding for Giancarlo Ferretti's Fassa Bortolo team at the time.
"I told Ferretti that I would try to get away several times to make the others tired while Michele could take it easy," he recalled. "Eventually I led out the sprint, but at 200 metres from the finish Bartoli still didn't pass me. Then I cramped but still only Bartoli passed me and won."
Seven years on Boogerd, Bartoli and Armstrong weren't in that sole hilly area, in the South East corner of the Netherlands. After the Fromberg, the third last climb of the day, Ivanov launched a counter-attack on Roman Kreuziger's solo escape. The Russian was marked by Kreuziger's team-mate Vincenzo Nibali, who wasn't co-operating for obvious reasons.
The trio was only joined by the race favourites' group on top of the penultimate climb, the Keutenberg. Rabobank's Robert Gesink launched what became the winning move on a false flat section at the top of that climb.
"I was worried when Robert attacked and I noticed that I couldn't bridge up alone," said Ivanov. "Then I saw a strong Karsten Kroon coming and I was even more worried to battle these two Nederlanders and I figured I should be happy with second place. I tried to save energy by skipping a pull and attacked before the final kilometre. Then I knew that it was between me and Karsten.
"It was hectic because I heard the rest [of the peloton] was coming close, so I kept going on the Cauberg," he added. "I couldn't drop Karsten, so I focused on the sprint. I kept him on the right, so he had to come around me, giving me five additional metres. In the end I think I was lucky more than being smart or anything else."
While Ivanov puts the victory down as luck, given his track record it was his Spring Classic experience that earned the Russian rider victory. He has learned from past experience that riding Ronde van Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix and then Amstel Gold Race wouldn't bring him to the latter event fresh enough to contend for victory.
"Looking at the last two years, I think I can win the Ronde as well," he said. "For some reason I'm always going bad in Gent-Wevelgem, so this time I skipped it. I did the same with Paris-Roubaix, because even though I can have a good race and finish in the top 10 it destroys my form ahead of the Amstel."
While Ivanov's patriotic feelings for Russia are strong and his commitment to the Katusha project deep, he also has a strong attachment to Belgium where he lives in the town of Molenstede, Diest. Asked where he would live after his career, Ivanov explained that he's fallen in love with Belgium.
"A few years ago I thought I would retire and return to Russia, but I added another year, and another one, and... Meanwhile I lost friends in Russia and made new friends in Belgium," he said. "I like the Belgian culture a lot. People are more straight forward here, I think I'll keep a house in Russia and in Belgium."
"I like the beers, especially Stella and Hoegaarden, but also Amstel, of course," joked Ivanov.
Belgian beers won't be the only thing flowing at Katusha's celebrations, which are sure to go long into the night. Ivanov also plans to try his hand at Wodka, a Polish-made blend of vodka.
"There will be a big celebration and we'll drink Wodka," he smiled. "I'll try some, but I don't know how many."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by ISPA/www.ispaphoto.be
Images by Brecht DecaluwÚ/Cyclingnews
Images by Sirotti/www.sirotti.it