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Russian National Championships - CN

June 27-30, 2002

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Day 3 - June 30: Elite Men's Road Race

Nobody wanted to die (or home sweet home for Oleg Grichkine)

By Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator

Driving the break
Photo: © Sergey Kurdukov
Click for larger image

Why do meteorologists normally give precise weather forecasts only when they predict something really nasty? This time they expected rain for the morning of the main race of the Russian champs, and yes, it did start raining some 15 minutes before the start time. It was nothing like a thunderstorm, it was more drizzling but drops never seemed to stop falling, and pretty soon the asphalt in Krylatskoye turned into a nice skating-rink.

The course has more than 50 turns for each 13.6 km lap, and four of those turns are positioned at the bottom of 13% plus downhill sections. If you brake a bit harder for safety's sake, you are doomed not to have enough speed in store to fly over the critical section of the following sharp uphill, which will mean shifting from 53x11 to 39x21 in an instant and then grinding you and your bike chainring's teeth in order to get to the top. Manoeuvres like that sap your energy before you even understand that, and one fine moment you find yourself standing in the middle of the climb unable to push even 39x23. So you have to take risks all day. Exactly what first division pros are unwilling to do.

In fact, this Sunday Krylatskoye wasn't full of riders with a lot of UCI points. Dmitry Konychev came to defend his title, the other three time Russian championships winner and his Fassa Bortolo teammate Sergey Ivanov was also present, Guennadi Mikhailov (Lotto) meant business as he came to Moscow a couple of days earlier to do some training along a very special course. Mapei's Evgeni Petrov after his victory in ITT felt relaxed enough and was going to ride just as an opportunist. For Big-Mat's omnipresent breakaway man Alexei Sivakov it was a good chance to shine in his home city. On the other hand, the Tour de France pre-selected men like Ekimov, Menchov and Botcharov had already started their relaxation period before the start in Luxembourg.

The first hero of the race was undoubtedly its youngest participant, 17 year old (celebrated his birthday in May) Itera rider Michail Ignatiev. Micha showed himself as a brilliant track man in January when he rode the amateur version of Moscow 6-days race. This time he broke away after kilometre 3 (a truly breathtaking attack it was, I saw it from the head of the jury car). Nobody was willing to bridge the gap and join him, so Ignatiev had to ride all by himself for some four laps and fearlessly entered the bends in the rain that was turning into a shower.

Dmitry Konychev thought better of repeating the youngster's feat and gave up after the very first lap. Boris, his father and coach, was not likely to get too disappointed by the fact his son was losing his third tricolor jersey so early. Konychev had already had his fair share of injuries last year. Though, strange as it is, there was only one major pile-up in the race, and not in the bend but at the end of the finishing straight where somebody slid on a road marking. Soon after that another triple champion left the race, Sergey Ivanov pedaled to a much warmer shower in a nearby hotel.

For Alexei Sivakov who was one of the most active organizers of the main breakaway, there was nothing terrible about the weather as he successfully withstood all the hardships of a rainy Paris-Roubaix this spring despite puncturing four times. Here in Russia one puncture was enough to cross out his chances. The tubular exploded, Sivakov immediately lost contact with the leading group and never regained it. Let's throw a stone in the direction of the neutral service car - it was seldom seen at front while the coaches in team cars were riding behind the peloton as the main forces of practically every squad were positioned there. But after the wheel change he stopped chasing by himself and joined the main bunch.

On the following lap the same story repeated itself in the case of Mikhailov. Tchmil's former teammate and friend (he still is, of course) punctured exactly on the same point where Sivakov had, and later we found a couple of bits of smashed bottles there. It was the end of Mikhailov's chances too as there was no way to get back to the leading group at the moment it was accelerating. All in all, that was a day when all the top Russian pros ran out of luck. Finally the peloton turned into a bunch of unfortunate top-class guys who made up their minds to stop as the race had hardly entered its last quarter.

But there was one man and his former team, led by the coach Gleb Greusman, to be blamed for the fact that about 1 minute that separated the leaders and the chasers quickly transformed into 6 minutes interval. I mean Oleg Grichkine and the Moscow squad. Young semi-pros whose contracts are still somewhere ahead of them rode a wonderfully tactical race. They never failed to outnumber their opponents along with their leader.

It's a common practice in Russia to ride for your old friend even if he is a member of a different stable. Grichkine spends a wonderful season with Navigators, yet all the resources of the Moscow squad were at his disposal on that morning. First Grichkine, who was one of the young hopefuls of the European madison a couple of seasons ago, and remains one of the most technical and courageous riders, organized an excellent teamwork in the 12 man breakaway, and neither bends nor climbs hampered that. Two Itera guys were in the minority there, they never took leading positions, but Moscow and Agidel, the team from the Urals that spends more time in Italian races as an under-23 national squad than anywhere else, joined forces for the time being and didn't care.

Three riders from Itera counter-attacked from the peloton to delegate more St Petersburg lads into the breakaway. Yet their superb team time trialing skills demonstrated not so long before in the Volta a Catalunya didn't work here in Krylatskoye, where the Moscow team had strenuously worked out for the past two months (all the time that they were not racing abroad). They had been using every opportunity for preparation, even taking part in masters races hors concurs (so I was privileged to ride alongside Grichkine before getting dropped by his powerful youngsters).

The main bunch sluggishly crossed start/finish line and immediately dispersed, much to the astonishment of judges and the audience, who could not figure out why should Petrov and K stop racing after so much suffering when the sun peeped out, the road got drier, and the time limit was still rather far away. And this very moment the main action unfolded. Agidel decided to change back Arikeev's bike as the spare one he was riding didn't fit too well, one of his domestics remained with him - and both failed to get back to the leaders. At the same time after a series of uphill attacks a four-man breakaway formed where we found two Muscovites, Grichkine and Ptchelkine, a former Agidel's rider Dmitry Gainitdinov, now turned pro with Tacconi Sport, and an Itera's man Borissov, who was noticeably tired by that moment as he took part in every breakaway from the very first lap, so he posed no threat.

The last lap proved the decisive one. Gainitdinov, whose future start in the Tour de France depended to a certain extent on the outcome of the race, had no alternative but to attack with three climbs to go. Grichkine, a man of fantastic pedaling style, got glued to the adversary's wheel. "I won't work," he warned Gainitdinov as Ptchelkine whizzed by at some 85 km/h and started climbing the next hill as easily as a man who had just started. Borissov got dropped. Gainitdinov was at a loss. Ptchelkine found himself 200 meters ahead with 4 km to go. Could it be that Russia would get the most unexpected champion?..

The duo of chasers entered the very last climb where the whole of Grichkine's family had spent a couple of hours in the rain and wind, giving him an incredible amount of support. At the moment they had already descended to the finish line, but Oleg was strong enough to cope with the rival by himself. Yet another incredible dance on the 39 by 21 - and Gainitdinov ran out of breath. Grichkine caught his former teammate, and crossed the line first.

Ignatiev came to the finish some 4 minutes later. 17 years old. 204 km of ruthless racing. More than 100 km ridden solo. Impressive statistics, isn't it?

Post-race interviews:

Both modest and honest
Photo: © Sergey Kurdukov
Click for larger image

Oleg Grichkine (Navigators, the winner): "It is the finest victory of my career, sure thing. The teamwork was unparalleled, super. I thank everybody - Ptchelkine, Osipov, Joukov - everyone. And my family organized a genuine fan club support. Mother, aunt, cousins were cheering me up at the top of their voices. Following week I won't race anywhere. I'm getting married on Friday (CN: his bride is the daughter of Lada-Samara team coach Ivanov). Our hard specialized training has paid back." (full interview to follow)

Gleb Greusman (the champion's coach, who also got the gold medal, as the tradition goes): "We are very satisfied. Although we played on our home territory, our rivals, the excellently organized and equipped Itera were as strong as always, so it's a real honour to beat a 100 pro squad. Every boy did his job. But I gave them room to manoeuvre. If Grichkine failed anyone could try his luck. I'm glad for Oleg and wish him to appear more in European races, as he enters the golden age for a road pro - he's almost 27 years old."

Andrei Ptchelkine (Moscow, second place): "Everybody asks me whether it was likely for me to lead to the end. No, I don't believe I could have won anyway, Oleg is a very fast sprinter to enter a serious duel with him. After all, I'm just 21 years old, and my titles won't run away.

Dmitry Gainitdinov (Tacconi Sport, 3rd place): "My situation was hopeless, I'm afraid. Frankly speaking, I didn't expect that Ptchelkine would attack so strongly. We could easily ride away with Grichkine, but he naturally didn't like this variant. Certainly my team would rather get a national champ's jersey on my shoulders as there is no similar way of reminding everyone you are a podium place winner. Now I'm waiting for the decision on my participation in the Tour."

Alexei Sivakov (Big Mat Auber, didn't finish): "You saw everything yourself. In such a hard race every mechanical can be fatal, so to speak. As to my future as a rider, I'm absolutely comfortable with Big Mat, and I hope the management will find a good sponsor to step in instead of the main one, which winds it up this autumn."

Sergey Sukhoritchenkov, who won the Olympic road race on this course in Krylatskoye in 1980. "It's no good to try to draw parallels between that race and this one. Everything was different - bikes and mentality. For us to abandon a race was a horrible shame. Even when I turned pro at late years of my career, too late I'm afraid, I couldn't digest when they said: "Don't suffer, give it up when your legs are not superb, tomorrow will be another race."

Yes, I'm riding with masters in some races, but yesterday I wasn't likely to start. Here in Krylatskoye you should be prepared, and your former titles make no difference."


Images courtesy Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator

Results - 204 km

1 Oleg Grichkine (Navigators)        5.19.42 (38.29 km/h)
2 Andrei Ptchelkine (Moscow)         
3 Dmitri Gainitdinov (Tacconi Sport)    0.13
4 Vladislav Borissov (St Petersburg)    0.28
5 Sergey Klimov (Itera)                 3.19
6 Sergey Ossipov (Moscow)               3.53
7 Denis Smyslov (Itera)                
8 Mikhail Ignatiev (Itera)              3.58
9 Alexander Arekeev (Ufa)               5.01
10 Ivan Shzegolev (Ufa)
11 Viktor Shzebelin (St Petersburg)     7.33
12 Eduard Varganov (Moscow)            12.29
13 Alexander Bajenov (Khabarovsk)      
14 Pavel Broutt (Itera)                19.48
15 Alexei Schmidt (Moscow)

Starters: 79
Finishers: 15