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Russian National Championships - CN
June 27-30, 2002
Petrov and Zabirova get back their property
By Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator
Whether we like it or not, history (and history of modern sport makes no exception) tends to repeat itself. The year of 2000 brought the titles of ITT champions to Zoulfia Zabirova and Evgueni Petrov. By then, Zabirova had been a true star as no one had forgotten her fantastic Olympic success in Atlanta; Petrov, in turn, was an up-and-coming rider known predominantly by those who followed under-23 races in Europe.
Besides a pair of gold medals there was almost nothing in common between them - neither before nor after those races. Zabirova came to the start while not fully recovered after a head injury and dearly paid for that when her Olympic aspirations fell through (for the detailed account read her winter interview here on Cyclingnews.com). Petrov successfully went on climbing the scales that led to professional career as he made his Olympic debut in Sydney, made a clean sweep in Plouay, winning both ITT and road race before saying good bye to the world of 'diletanti' and opening the door to the world of 'profecionisti' in the line-up of MAPEI. Zulia almost made up her mind to call it quits almost in the same month as Petrov won his first professional road race. Their roads were so far apart that it seems incredible the hot day in June brought them together again.
The men started the race in three groups of 11 riders. 33 km, that is, 3 laps of 11 km. And the race unfolded in absolute accordance with the logic of the start list. Only one of those who started outside the last 11, which was considered the group of top favourites, managed to get into top 6. Eduard Gritsoun, who at 26 is the oldest man of ITERA by far, riding a violet-coloured ITT Masi which was made, judging from the four letters on the top tube of the frame, especially for the USSR team. The Soviet Union hasn't been in existence for already more than a decade, but the steel bike is still good even on the hilly course of Krylatskoye.
The leading trio got clear rather early narrowing the intrigue to the question of who of the three will be the first: last year champ Dmitri Sjemov who enjoyed the privilege of starting the last; Vladimir Karpets, an Indurain-sized rising star of everything what road cycling has in store, from ITT to mountain climbing (he recently impressed the specialists by storming the mountain passes of Catalonia side by side with the likes of Heras and Escartin, never giving up); or Evgueni Petrov who didn't have any intention of leaving anything to chance.
Last year Petrov was almost 30 seconds late for the start and failed not only to defend his title but even to make the podium. This year I saw him one meter from the starting podium 6 minutes ahead of time.
The rides of the three were incredibly powerful, the gears they used were the same, and they were seldom less than 54-11 or 12, although physically the riders are rather dissimilar. Even on long uphill sections they never used bigger than 14. No wonder that already after the first lap they were at least 30 seconds clear of any other contender. It was a race where no mistakes could be corrected. No one of the three made any errors, but Petrov this time was a bit more mobilized and focused.
Evgueni Petrov: "It is really a super-technical course where you have to get round the bends and hairpins at the maximum of risk. But it was an interesting race."
As to the question of a likely end of MAPEI's sponsorship: "It came as rather a shocking surprise. I learned about it from TV news here in Moscow much later than you journalists."
"If they select me into the national team it will surely be an honour to represent my country in the World's. And it doesn't matter what kind of a course will be there."
1 Evgeni Petrov (Mapei-Quick Step) 2 Dmitry Semov 3 Vladimir Karpets
The women were invited to the start right after the podium ceremony of men's race. 22 riders which were getting ready to speed along the course. The lower part of starting list looked like one of an all-star game: Svetlana Boubnenkova, Valentina Polkhanova, Zoulfia Zabirova, Svetlana Samokhvalova, Natalia Karimova, Olga Slioussareva, to name a few. All of these riders stood on the podiums of world championships and grand tour stages more than once.
As it often happens, the weather was harder on these riders - a drizzling rain that waited for so long, at last started, making sharp turns still more dangerous. But it didn't seem to hold back yet another trio. Feather-light Svetlana Boubnenkova, known in Italy as Buba, set the first fastest lap time of 14.26 which was better than good half of men's group had had. Everyone was still amazed when Zulia Zabirova crossed the line and went for the final lap after just 14.12. The world track points race champion (and 200 meters sprint record holder since early 90's into the bargain) Olga Slioussareva put the pressure on both - 14.26.
Chances were that Boubnenkova would overtake Slioussareva's time while covering roller-coaster sections as she is a world-renowned climber, but Olga, who started last, mapped out the last lap excellently. Zabirova climbed up the top of the podium of Russian championship for...even she is not sure which time (if you sum up her road and track success). Yet this time there is something special about this victory. Her only real goal this year is the World championships and her victory in Moscow looks like a major stepping stone. The Olympic champion of 1996 goes on pursuing this ever-evading world title.
Svetlana Boubnenkova: "I don't feel quite well after a period of illness, so the result could have been better. I knew Slioussareva was dangerous on this kind of a course. Although a half of the lap is a roller-coaster, it is not devised for specialist climbers. These short, big-gear climbs of Krylatskoye were easy for many, and everything was decided on sharp turns. Speed, speed all the way."
"Now we are in for two Grand Tours and I want to make my presence felt. And yet the first of them, that is the Giro Femminile, is still hanging up in the air, as far as I know. Nothing is ever for certain in women's cycling...Le Grand Boucle is even too difficult this year. At least four horrible mountain stages, a couple of special category climbs. Not every pro from the men's peloton will cope with all that."
During this brief interview Svetlana's daughter Kristina (Bubbina as she is called by the Italian half of the family) was seriously inspecting mamma's bike. Just on time as she is going to start in her first ever race herself in September. The girl was present at the podium ceremony, as well as Slioussareva's son Sergey.
Zoulfia Zabirova: "Now I am relaxed at last. I'm not going to hide I was rather nervous before the start...Those Olympic rings on the sleeves, they are so obliging. I didn't have too many race days this season and I'm still far from my peak. I knew how good Olga's form is and it wasn't easy to beat her. At least now it looks clear I make steps in the right direction."
"The World's, the sole top priority of the season is still far away, and in a week's time the period of tours starts. This year I don't care too much about GC or stage wins. First of all, I'll working at my individual skills. To train in big stage races is not so abnormal (full interview to follow)."
Images by Sergey Kurdukov, Russian Eurosport commentator
1 Zoulfia Zabirova (Rostov-Don-Moscow) 28.45.26 (45.91 km/h) 2 Olga Slioussareva (Itera) 0.20 3 Svetlana Boubnenkova (Izevsk) 0.34 4 Valentina Polkhanova (Itera) 1.23 5 Svetlana Ivakhonenkova (Moscow) 2.00 6 Olga Zabelinskaya (Itera) 2.05 7 Julia Martysova (Itera) 2.31 8 Tatiana Antochina (Moscow) 2.50 9 Nadezda Vlasova (Chita) 2.58 10 Svetlana Samokhvalova (Itera) 3.07 ... 12 Natalia Karimova (Rostov-Don) 3.26