|Cyclingnews TV News Tech Features Road MTB BMX Cyclo-cross Track Photos Fitness Letters Search Forum|
As long as the legs spin
Oleg Grichkine: Russian road champion on his way to Athens
By Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator
Oleg Grichkine is both a specialist on the track and the road, this year winning the Russian Road and Madison Championships. The 27 year old Navigators rider is looking at the Athens Olympics in 2004, where he hopes to represent Russia in at least one discipline. Russian Eurosport commentator Sergey Kurdukov takes up the tale of Oleg Grichkine.
Last time I saw him was on the eve of the World Track Championships in Copenhagen. There was something foreboding about that murky September day, or perhaps it seems so today, when I know that the Russian duo (Oleg Grichkine teamed up with Sergey Koudentsov) had failed to get to the finish of the madison on the final day of the Championships.
On that day they did their regular road workout session, and it looked rather solid. The guys were ready to fly to Caucasus to take part in a criterium to put some final touches to their form. Yet, alas, the very next weekend in Denmark, Grichkine would wind up one of the most (or perhaps THE most) fruitful seasons of his professional cycling career in not the most spectacular way. Life is not all beer and skittles, even for a champion of a country that abounds in cycling tradition.
Oleg Grichkine is a Muscovite, a resident of the capital that is not usually at the top of a road race result sheet. Muscovites (or at least a fair part of them) enjoy a far greater measure of material comfort than the rest of the country. That's why it is popularly taken for granted that they are not as ambitious as their provincial counterparts and not ready to suffer on the road till their eyes are swollen with blood. When a Muscovite wins (like Alexey Sivakov some years ago) it is thought to be a whim of fortune. But many of them, like Oleg, have very modest backgrounds, but aim high.
OG: At the beginning, everything was a bonus, an achievement in itself. My first coach, Boris Zimin, turned up just in time to get me out of a hooligan uptown street life and show there is something more attractive in store. After just two months, I rode home by bike, a new bike given to me for free, then we set off for a training camp to Sigulda, a very prestigious Baltic resort well known all around the USSR at the time. All in all, it really stood for something for a 13 year-old boy.
In a year and a half I won the Moscow champ's and was invited to a sports boarding school.
CN: Some comments should be given here. Both the GDR and USSR had a similar system of bringing up sporting talents. Here and there you could see megacentres where young boys and girls ate, slept, studied, but most of the time, trained, practicing one of dozens of sports. Some of these, called "Olympic reserve schools" are still alive in today's Russia, though they are not so numerous any more.
OG: So when you ask me how I managed to get to Krylatskoye and back home to the Southern outskirts of Moscow on a daily basis, my answer is: I actually didn't manage it. As soon as a young but very successful coach Gleb Groisman included me in his group, I became a guest in my own home. On the other hand, the boarding school is some 5 minutes warm-up ride from the velodrome and the road circle where 1980 Games were held.
CN: And here is the answer for those who call you a surprise success: you have been living on this asphalt roller-coaster for years on end, you were destined to win it one day.
OG: It's true, but it's just a small part of the story. The rest of it is that Gleb always put a heavy accent on track racing. Points races and pursuit time trials were of primary importance for us, although we normally raced on the road quite extensively.
The couple of years that followed, I had a fair share of success both indoor and outdoor, and had an excessive share of both physical and psychological exhaustion. In 1996 some of my former teammates sold bikes in the market and I just joined them, giving up cycling as a bad job. But this period was short lived -some three months. A teammate of mine was hit and killed by a car and it was a powerful shock for me. But three months were enough to bring it home to me that I can't go on without cycling anymore. Gleb Groisman, got me back, and I thank him for that.
CN: And pretty soon your professional road career started. It looked like a sharp turn of fate.
OG: Not actually. I rode plenty of one-days abroad with dilettanti so managers there knew what to expect from me. But of course, I didn't have a manager of my own to look after the business side of the matter. It's normal for a rider from Eastern Europe that his coach and friends help him into the world of pro cycling, making use of their personal connections in this world.
My first "almost-pro" team was Roslotto's "farm-club" which we joined with Maxim Smirnov from Obninsk. Our ways didn't separate for quite some time. The following spring I had rather a promising beginning, but then knee problems caught up with me. It was a pity as my fitness level had soared high. Strange as it is, it was this very month when I got sidetracked that Ballan approached me with a contract offer.
CN: The team's bosses, as it seems, had a special taste for Russian (or rather, former Soviet) riders, besides two youngsters you and Smirnov, Alexander Gontchenkov and Piotr Ugryumov rode for it.
OG: Yes, and it was quite a school to train and perform side-by-side with the greats of this sport, speaking the same language in every sense of the phrase.
CN: Did you have any linguistic problems in Italy?
OG: Well, step-by-step I got over them, practice works miracles, but that's not what I mean. You see, most experienced riders in the West, it seems, don't greet young novices with open arms. And it is not as if they feared potential competitors or had a grudge of some kind, no. They simply have got too many things to see to. Families, houses, children, they ride a race, and then disappear before you can open your mouth until the next one. When should you ask them questions? They just do their job, make their money.
It's a bit different with our veteran riders. They willingly become teachers, notwithstanding their palmares. Gontchenkov and Ugryumov were very supportive.
CN: Ugryumov was an idol for so many
OG: You'd never tell this by his behaviour. He has always been accessible. But he was strikingly strong, even when he was almost 40.
Our team's boss believed in gradual progress, so he never pushed younger pros into overtraining ourselves, he hoped we would ripen just as the team would make Division 1. It was a happy time, but nothing is eternal in the world of cycling. A conflict between the main sponsors broke out, and I got sidetracked once more - only this time it had nothing to do with my physical conditions. Well, for me there has always been a landing ground of a kind, that is, track. In 1998 we teamed up with another Muscovite, Galkine and almost made the World's madison podium.
CN: I remember you were a promising duo. Where is your teammate at the moment?
OG: He sells bikes, called it a day. Without road racing a Russian trackie can't survive in this sport. The national team won't be able to feed your family; you have to make your money on the road. So I kept on racing. Luckily, our sponsor lived up to his promise to pay contract debts, while in today's cycling quite often the opposite is the fact. So I had some room to manoeuvre. As a result of this manoeuvre and help from my friends I'm now with Navigators. I never planned riding in America, but life is full of surprises.
CN: The format of races in the US suits your abilities - or how else could you be one of the leaders in the points standings of the USPRO circuit for most of the season?
OG: Well my duty in the team is to be Davidenko's last wheel in the train. But when I feel really strong, I'm given a fair measure of freedom. Yeah, typical races in America are very special for a European rider. There is not much inner discipline, teamwork is scarce, and everybody's constantly accelerating and rides for himself. All that makes racing really dangerous, with plenty of crashes. But I like speed, I like fast finishes. In one of the USPRO series races, we were riding in torrential rain and my rivals seemed a bit wary. The weather played into my hands.
CN: So you are not afraid of pile-ups?
OG: I was normally lucky to avoid them. Only one of my races was really disastrous in this sense. Ironically it was the Olympic selection for Sydney 2000. We rode the madison with Galkine and I fell heavily. In an eye's wink guys from St Petersburg launched an attack making the most of our ill fortune (it should be mentioned here that the teams from two capitals - the former, Petersburg, and the actual, Moscow - are irreconcilable rivals for a couple of generations. Sometimes this rivalry even takes on marginal forms - CN). Still we got back into the race, went on winning sprints - and then yet another fall! Incredible!
CN: And yet you like track all the same. Even though it doesn't pay.
OG: Absolutely! I ride on pure ambition here, but now I am a family man. Riding for a national track team without a pro road contract is just food and some clothes. When you are a junior and don't have other responsibilities, that can do for a couple of seasons, but not if you are close to 30 and have a wife.
CN: The wedding took place just a couple of days after his unexpected victory in the Russian pro road champs. His wife, Julia, is a girl with a complete cycling background, her father, Ivanov, is a well known coach of the Lada team from the banks of Volga, where a lot of well known roadies were taught the ins and outs of the trade. Julia jokingly said after the championships race that she was an agent for Lada, that she had stolen all the strategic secrets of the Muscovites, yet it didn't help, as two of them had made the podium. But the fact that the top man was her husband, sweetened the pill for sure.
OG: A honeymoon is not what happens every day. That's an argument, isn't it, for me to justify my relative slide of form in the second half of the season? After the sweet month of July it was not so easy to get back into the fight. I came to New York, and found the post-tour criterium with Armstrong next to me a unique affair, but the race itself was absolutely wild, and my shape was not sufficient to face the challenge. Well, it's time to leave that behind and get ready for near future.
CN: Is your future linked with the same team?
OG: Yes, why shouldn't it be? In today's rocky cycling economic conditions Navigators never make excuses not to pay, the bosses of the squad are as good as their word. And they try to see my skills as a trackie. I hope they'll let me take part in World Cup races to win Olympic points for Athens.
CN: It's a matter of prestige for any team to have a national champion in its line-up. Do you think the tricolor jersey will change your role a lot?
OG: Not too likely. I believe that European squads are "maglia-minded", that's true, but the same does not apply to American teams to the same degree. Well, our boss talked about the team's European ambitions, if those plans don't fall through, then perhaps I'll be sporting the jersey where it is really appreciated.
CN: I know that this pre-season team work will start unusually early for Navigators as a part of the European campaign. Yet now you work out in Russia, and this period is strikingly long.
OG: Well, Navigators don't mind, rather the opposite is the case. They do trust Gleb Groisman's methods and why shouldn't they? I owe most of my most important victories this season to the spring training camp held here in Moscow.
Now with an air of absolute serenity and self-confidence Oleg Grichkine looks more stable than ever. He's an adult with a lightning-like sprint but with a cool head on his shoulders. So no wonder that the answer for the question "how many years more?" is as follows: "As long as my legs spin."