This past summer I did a series of interviews with Viatcheslav Ekimov for the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
fan site, The Paceline. This week as we honor the career of Ekimov we have been
given permission to reprint three interviews on the DP. In the first two
parts Eki shares how he first got into cycling, as well as what it was like
living in the Soviet cycling system, going for his Olympic dream as a young man
in his twenties and turning professional.
Part three has Eki sharing Tour memories as he prepared to ride his fifteenth
Tour. In a final installment we have a new interview conducted with Eki
just a few weeks ago from his home in Russia.
The phrases "Tough as nails" and "Iron Man Eki" are commonly found in
references to Discovery Channel rider Viatcheslav Ekimov. He's ridden and
completed fourteen Tours de France, one Giro, several Vueltas, and has palmares
that stretch from here to Russia. When Johan needed strong support
for Paolo Savoldelli in the 2006 Giro, he put Eki on the squad, knowing he'll be
ready, he'll be strong, and he will leave it all on the road in support for his
team. Still riding in the professional peloton at age 40, Eki has become a
sort of "Ageless Wonder" as he continues to compete at the highest level
in the sport with continued success.
But just like mere mortals, Ekimov had to get his start somewhere, and we wanted to hear his story straight from the source. This is part
one of "Eki on Eki."
Cathy Mehl: I wanted to hear about your early life, Eki, and how you
originally got into cycling as a young man.
Ekimov: My mom and dad were doing things in sport, but my older brother
never did. I was the only kid in the family interested in sports. I
originally started because there was nothing else to do. I began in track
and field in 1977, and I did that for three years and then I switched to
cycling. I was having good results in track and field, but after three
years I was tired of it and looking for something else.
The city where I grew up was a small city, about 50,000 people and there
weren't many sport options, just cycling, soccer, track and field and skiing in
the winter. So I went to another place to do cycling. I was dreaming
to have a nice sport bike, instead of my regular heavy bike. But my
parents were just regular people, so they didn't have spare money to buy me a
new bike. I knew if I went to a cycling school I would get a
new bike, new clothes, all of that. Just open this door and boom,
you get everything you need. It was so easy, so I said I was going to try
Cathy: How old were you at that time?
Eki: I was twelve. So in Spring on 1978 there was the choice to go
to the special training camp in Summer 1978, but it would mean giving up my
holiday of the summer. And all through the school year I had been training
and training for track and field so I wanted some vacation. I was a big
fan of fishing and sometimes I went hunting with my father and grandfather.
So I said no, I didn't want to go to the cycling training camp all summer.
I didn't want to miss doing (fun) things for a third summer in a row. The
coach told me I could stay home, but he said in the next year if I wanted to
continue in cycling I would have to go to training camp. I said ok, next
year we will see. In summer 1979 I did go to that training camp. It
was in the country, a little set up with houses, probably about 50 kids from
You lived there?
Eki: Yes, I lived there in a small house on the lake, and all season we
did training. Just like a regular camp, training and eating and learning
things. It wasn't hard at all, it was more like fun. Just a camp.
Every third day we'd have a conditioning test. In the middle of August
1979 my coach told me I was selected to go to the school which was more serious
and train with a very famous coach in Russia. At that time to be selected
for that school was a very big honor. There was nothing bigger than that.
It was almost guaranteed that if you went to that school in a few years you
would be a serious rider.
I had heard a lot of stories about this school, how it was almost like the
army, very strict, like boot camp. So I was thinking to myself, "Oh my
god, I don't want to do that." I was only thirteen. I didn't want to
go there. My coach said he would give me three days to think about it, and
if I said no, I would just leave my bike, take my suitcase and go home. He
said I was at the maximum age to start the school, and there were a
limited number of bikes and we had to share them.
If you weren't interested in filling a spot at the school, they
were going to move on to the next kid.
Eki: Right, exactly. So it was a hard time for me for those three
days. My head was hurting thinking about it. It was a hard decision.
My mom came and I asked her what I should do. She was never happy that I
was thinking of starting cycling. She thought it was too dangerous.
By the time she came to see me my arms and legs were already covered with road
rash! She was a little panicked! Finally she said, "You can always
try and if you don't like it you can walk away. But you have to try and
maybe it's something you will like."
So I started the school at the first of September, 1979. Straight after
we went to another training camp further south and were training three and four
times a day. It was quite serious.
But you lived full time at the school? They educated you,
Eki: Yes, all the time. We lived there, we were educated there,
we did everything there.
What did you think about being there, away from home at such a
Eki: Well, the first few months it was pretty fun, nice atmosphere,
nice kids. The toughest thing for me was to be organized all the time.
The coach would give us a bad time about not being organized. If we had a
mess in our room, we would get fined with points. So when it was time to
go see your family or friends, if you had points that were not worked off, you
had to remain at the school and not see your family. That was tough.
Like super Soviet method at the time (laughs). I figured out right away
that I needed to be organized and not pick up any points, so when it was time to
go home, I could go. That school gave me a lot.
It molded the way you conducted the rest of your life.
Eki: Yes. Example, I am always on time. It built up my
character and my organizational skills. My results were coming so fast,
too. By 1981 I had already won two gold medals in the Juniors in track.
Then in 1985 I won my first World Champion gold medal in amateurs. In 1988
I was an Olympic champ and my results were just going like a rocket.
When you started sport at age 13 were you being told you had
special talents and needed to be properly trained, or did the drive come from
inside yourself to make something bigger of your talent?
Eki: It was pretty easy to see that I was a head above the kids my age.
I was already racing against kids older than me because my results were so good.
I was always ahead of the level I should have been at for my age group. In
Russia we had this kind of sports education and you got a grade. You could
move up to earn higher levels of grades, like to become a master of the sport.
So when you are young, say third grade, you can earn a sports grade. Then
you can become master of the sport, then master of the international sport class
and finally master of the sport at the elite level. This grade would only
be for someone winning world championships or Olympics. When I was twenty I was
already at this top level; there was nothing above me.
In 1989 I had already been World Champion a few times and Olympic Champion,
so I decided it was time to turn to professional sport. It was the time of
the first Russian team in 1989. I didn't want to go with those guys, I
wanted to go with an established team. I got offers from Motorola and
Panasonic as my first jobs.
You were ready to go professional because there were no more
challenges for you?
Eki: Right, I had already won everything. Knowing that, I
realized there was another level I could go to and it was the professional
level. I knew I was strong but not the strongest in the world. The
professionals were the other side of the coin. My dream was just to sign a
deal with any big team and try myself at that level. I needed to see if I
could compete with those guys, and if I could, then on a given day I might be
able to say I'm the best in the world. I took the job with Panasonic, and right
away I realized that everything I'd done before was behind me, and now I was in
the real deal of professional sport.
Stay tuned for part two as Eki turns professional and learns what it's like
to juggle training, family and other responsibilities, yet still stay on top of
Thank you to Chris Brewer and The Paceline.com for allowing us to reprint