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Tribute to Viatcheslav Ekimov, Tour Memories
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 11/23/2006
Tribute to Viatcheslav Ekimov, Tour Memories
 

Prior to riding his fifteenth and final Tour de France, Eki shared some of his Tour memories with us. A special thank you to The Paceline for allowing us to reprint this interview conducted in June 2006.


EKI TALKS LE TOUR

There is only one cyclist currently riding in the peloton that has ridden over 289 stages of the Tour de France. Only one rider who has ridden around France in July for a cumulative total of over two thirds of a year. Only one rider who has logged 48,304k (29,996 miles) in his legs for le Tour. Yes, only one rider who has been there to see Armstrong, Pantani, Ullrich, Indurain, Riis and Lemond all stand on the top step wearing the Maillot Jeune at the close of the race. That rider is, of course, Discovery Channel's Viatcheslav Ekimov. The Paceline sat down to hear some tales from the ever youthful Ekimov as he gets ready to ride in yet another Tour de France.

Cathy Mehl: Eki, I know you've ridden 14 Tours. Can you share with us an early memory of the Tour?

Ekimov: It was 1991, I was riding with Panasonic, and it was my first Grand Tour. What I remember most is that I won a stage (Stage 20, Aix les Bains-Macon). My first stage win gave me a lot of confidence that I could do well and that I could get victories in the Grand Tours. Of course I was pretty far off on GC, not having any experience and not knowing how to use my efforts for the long stages day after day (he finished 42nd). But I was 25 or 26 and it was fun. It was very exciting to win. I'd heard a lot about the Tour de France and how it was the top race. It was the top of the cycling mountain. I had hoped that the speed in the peloton would not be so high in the last week and I could get a win then, but the speed just kept getting faster and faster! But I did get my win in the last week, just before the finish, so that means I was getting better and better just like a lot of other guys.

Cathy: I guess you needed a four week race.

Eki: Yeah, exactly. But you have to stay with the group; you have to keep riding faster. If you go too slow, the next morning you can find yourself on the way to the airport somewhere!

Also it was super hot that year. Every day it was 35 or 37C (95 to 100F). I was fresh from Russia and after two weeks my skin was completely cooked! I was burned twice over. I wondered if it could ever be hotter.

c. Peter Ozolins

Cathy: Was that stage win the only one you've had in the Tour or have there been others?

Eki: That was the only one; some seconds and thirds. One year I was super close to a stage win in 1993, but Lance won! (Stage 8 to Verdun). I was in the lead group with 10 or 12 guys, but I ended up on the wrong side. I was feeling pretty good, but I ended up blocked out with no room to move. That was a good stage, too. I think the best I ever did was 18th on GC in 1995. That was a good Tour for me: the time trials were good and I had good mountain stages. Every time I was right up there until the final climb.

You weren't with US Postal when Lance got his first win in 1999. When you rode with him in 2000, was that the first time you rode with a team that was defending the jersey?

Yes, it had never happened before with the teams I had ridden with, not even with someone on the podium. So this was my first experience being on a defending team.

What was that like?

Well, I would say it was like riding in a completely different race from those I had done previously. It was twice as hard. On all flat stages we had to be in the wind to protect Lance and keep him out of trouble. Then in the mountain stages we had to ride up front too, until you are dropped maybe at the last climb. But all the way up to that point you are in the front. There was never a break from that. I think only the TT's felt like our days off!

Did you know it would be that difficult?

Well, after 2000 I knew it would be hard again, and again, and again. Every year when Lance would show up at the Tour he was unbelievably strong and we knew he would win the race. We knew our work would be hard every year, but we knew to just do the work and not make excuses.

You always kept coming back; you've ridden the Tour a lot of times!

For sure. And it was always real fun to race with Lance. The atmosphere around the team bus and the team hotel was incredible. All the people, all the fans. Sometimes it felt like the fans had to touch anybody from Lance's team. Sometimes it looked like the groups that would gather around the Beatles!

(We both laugh.)

Can you recall a time in the Tour that you had a really bad day on the bike?

There were a couple of days that were really bad, especially after hard mountain stages when we'd stay at a bad hotel or a little campanile. I remember the stage where we finished on Mont Ventoux and then we stayed at a very small campanile. I couldn't sleep all night. It was like 35C degrees inside the room. I was just suffering there. The next day I felt completely empty. It was a hard day where the wind was coming from all different directions and we had to be in the front. That day was not good.

Can you share with us any other special memories about Tours with Lance? Maybe something especially fun or a funny event?

I think it was 2001 or 2002, someone on the team brought a ZZ Top CD and it was playing all, ALL the time in the bus: before the race, after the race, while riding on the bus. And those songs got in my head and I could hear them all day long while riding the bike. Something like "Cheap Sunglasses" and all this stuff. So what happened was they used to be one of my favorite groups but I cannot listen to them even now! But every year something fun would happen. We always had fun. Otherwise it would be impossible to stay in complete concentration and stressed all the time.

Laughter was probably a good release for you guys.

We always laughed a lot and shared good jokes. No one argued, or whatever. Before the starts every morning we always knew there would be a lot of people around the bus so we would be looking out the windows for funny things about the people, or the way they were dressed or some nice girls, you know. Someone would point out the person and start taping on the windows (from the inside). From the outside the windows were black so the people would look at the window and not see anything. We would laugh at that.

Chechu told me one time it was good to have Lance go outside the bus so all the people would swarm around him; then you guys could go sign in or get on the start line and be left alone!

Right, we'd send him in one direction and we'd go in the other direction! One time I stayed in the bus late but Lance had already gone. When I came out of the bus there was not one person wanting an autograph! No one! Empty!

Let's talk about last year, the 2005 Tour, Lance's last Tour. You had to miss it because of injury. Was that tough for you?

In my mind it was worse than all the pain and suffering I'd had for my back, because I knew my back was going to be good; it was going to be okay. But missing the Tour, especially when it was the last Tour with Lance, well, I missed it big time. Real bad. I was happy when Johan called me in St. Petersburg and asked me to come to Paris for the end of the race and the party. That was a big moment for me. I felt included and like I was part of the team.

The big atmosphere at the end can only happen in the Tour de France, especially when you are on the team that wins this race. It's something I will always keep in my mind and it was really hard to miss it in 2005.

This year will be different for the team. What do you think about the team not naming the leader until things unfold on the road?

It's hard to imagine riding the race without Lance, but the team is still going to try to do well in this race and once we start doing well, people will notice that someone new is emerging from our group and maybe a new winner will come from our team. It will be strange (without Lance) but I think little by little all year we've come to understand what the race will be like without him.

But if you don't ride up front we won't see you on TV.

The race for us is going to be much more interesting. We're going to still ride near the front and follow the breaks. We will be on TV for sure! But there will be more initiative from our riders this year, as we all know that there will be some little chance for every guy on the team to do something. There were wins last year, but those wins were not on purpose. It was just included in the team tactics, just a good chance. But this year stage wins should happen on purpose.

Are there any stages in the Tour this year that you think would suit you to try for the win?

I will be looking for something in the last week, after the Alps. I will see what I can do there. I'm not looking for GC and it's very important to be out of GC (contention) in the last week, so it's easier to go in the breaks and follow the moves. If you are in the top ten there will be no chances to go. Everyone is watching their places and wanting to hold on to them or move up in some of those.

Since you're living in Spain, are you hearing much about the most recent doping problem coming from there?

There are a lot of rumors, but no (factual) information since the investigation has been launched. For sure this scandal is bigger than others, much more serious.

When you hear about a new doping incident, as a rider, what is your first reaction to that?

First of all I think everyone who loves the sport, riders and fans, are just saddened in general by this news. It's so bad and so sad when sponsors start pulling out. The second thing that comes to my mind is, "Oh, good thing I'm not involved!" It's always bad, always bad for cycling. But it happens.

c. Ben Ross

After the Tour you're going to spend a month with your son (age 13) at the cycling camp you went to in Russia.

Yes, I am spending the entire month with my son back in St. Petersburg. I am taking him to the training camp where I started. He is very good on the bike. He likes the descent on his mountain bike. But I keep telling him he needs to be stronger physically. He needs strong legs to push the pedals. It's not only the descent in life, there is all of this uphill too! I tell him the solution for him will be to train on a road bike.

His bike is almost ready. In July he will train around here (Spain). Then in August I will take him to the camp. I will show him the history of the daddy! Maybe something will switch on in his mind and make it a little more exciting to him. I just have to give him the choice to be a cyclist or not. But to be a cyclist I have to show him the way I was trained. He must see what it's like in real life, not just in reading articles about his daddy.

He can stay at the camp if he wants, but my house is not far from there. And I'm going to take my bike too and follow the group. I'm going to see my kid everyday! Maybe my son will become more interested in the road. I am going to give him a start and then maybe push him a little more in that direction in September and October. Maybe next year he will want to do some local races with the juniors back in Spain.

Is he excited about going to the camp?

He is excited about doing the races, but not about the training! He doesn't understand what it's like to train on the road. You get such great feelings when you train. When you go on the descent you are excited, you feel the speed, it's like a fun game. But to be well trained on the road and to see how easy it can be to go uphill on the same bike, well, you get another set of nice feelings.

Any parting comments you care to share with us, Eki?

I guess just tell the fans that the team is still planning to do well even without Lance. We're still going to make a statement. We're not going just to ride; we're going to race.


Tomorrow's final installment of our Tribute to Ekimov Week has a new interview with Eki from his home in Russia. He talks about retirement, his new job with Discovery Channel, and directing George to the win in his first race as a DS at USPro in Greenville, SC last September.
 
Related Articles
Tribute to Viatcheslav Ekimov, the Early Years
Tribute to Viatcheslav Ekimov, the Professional Years
Tribute to Viatcheslav Ekimov, the Retirement Interview

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