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The Ultimo Chilometro?
By Staff
Date: 1/10/2004
The Ultimo Chilometro?

By Tony Szurly
Webmaster: Io Tifo Tafi

Looking back at the close of the 2003 season, there were 30 riders in the European peloton that were 36 years old or older.  Coming into the 2004 season, quite a few of these men will still be competing at the very highest level, playing vital roles for their respective teams and winning important races even at this late stage of their career.  Regardless of their individual accomplishments, it’s a testimonial to their collective professionalism and dedication that they remain, in their late thirties and beyond, at the level of fitness necessary to compete successfully at the top levels of their chosen sport.

Before the final chapters of their careers are written, perhaps at the conclusion of this upcoming season for some, I thought it would be fitting to have a quick look at a few of these “grizzled veterans”, some of whom are arguably among the very best professional cyclists of the last 20 years or so.  I have had the pleasure to see all of these men in action in person over the years and have grown to respect their achievements, durability and passion for cycling.  Have a good look this year; it may be your last chance to watch these men in action.

And so, we start with the Grand Old Man of the pro peloton…

Mario Scirea

Team in 2004: Domina Vacanze (TT2)

Professional since 1989

Started pro career with Café de Colombia

Entering 16th pro season

Birthday Aug 7, 1964

40 years old at the end of this season

Although the quiet man from Bergamo has a truly modest palmarés, the story of Mario Scirea is best told through the results of his more famous namesake and long time teammate, Mario Cipollini.  For many years the well-regarded capitano of Cipollini’s Red Train, the long, tall Italian continues to be the main man responsible for organizing the grueling, leg-sapping final kilometers of many sprint stage finishes.  It was often work that went unnoticed by the casual fan, but the true cognoscenti know that without this Mario, the “other” one would be less well-known!

Career highlights - 2 victories.  Hofbrau Cup stage win, Tour of the Americas stage win.  Member of Italian World Championships team.  World Champion Team Time Trial.


Ludo Dierckxsens

Team in 2004: Landbouwkrediet (TT1)

Professional since 1994, started pro career with Saxon

Entering 11th pro season

Birthday Oct 14, 1964

40 at the end of this season

The irrepressible Ludo is a definite fan favorite, famous for making a late start in professional cycling and fighting his way up from the kermesse circuit and a blue collar job in a factory to join the top level professional ranks.  For a guy with relatively limited success, he remains one of the most popular cyclists in Belgium. A fearfully strong cobbles man, he heroically tried almost single-handedly to take on the powerful Domo team at Paris-Roubaix in 2001.

Career highlights - 22 victories.  Tour de France stage win, Belgian National Champion, Paris-Bourges, GP Ouverture La Marseillaise.


Gianni Faresin

 Team in 2004: Gerolsteiner (TT1)

Professional since 1988, started pro career with Malvor-Sidi

Entering 17th pro season

Birthday July 16, 1965

39 years old at the end of this season

A quiet professional, Faresin has been around for what seems like forever. A good climber, he spent his entire career on Italian teams before moving to the German Gerolsteiner team in 2002, where he will begin his third season.  Like his idol, Francesco Moser, Faresin wore the Italian Tricolore in 1997.

Career highlights - 13 victories. Giro di Lombardia, Italian National Champion, GP Camaiore, Hofbrau Cup, LUK Cup Buhl. Italian World Championship team.


Johan Museeuw

Team in 2004: Quickstep-Davitamon (TT1)

Professional since 1988, started pro career with ADR

Entering 17th pro season

Birthday: October 13, 1965

39 years old at the end of this season

No brief account can do true justice to the career of what many consider the finest Classics rider of his generation.  The Leeuw van Vlaanderen has won just about every important one-day race on the calendar.  His performances on the cobbles are without peer in the present day peloton.  His heroic comebacks from two career-threatening injuries have underscored his phenomenal work ethic, professionalism and epic hard man status. 

Winner of 11 World Cup races, a World Championship, the overall World Cup title, the showplace Champs-Elysees stage of the Tour, and even wore the Yellow Jersey in the Tour.  His training regime is legendary, putting in all-weather sessions of motorpacing behind his father on the derny on the cobbled roads around his home in Gistel. Without doubt, one of the all-time greats.

Career highlights - 98 victories.  World Champion, 2 time winner Overall World Cup, 3 time winner of Paris-Roubaix, 3 time winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Tours, Championship of Zurich, Amstel Gold Race, HEW Cyclassics, Het Volk, Belgian National Champion.


Viatcheslav Ekimov

Team in 2004: United States Postal Service (TT1)

Professional since 1990, started pro career with Panasonic

Entering 15th pro season

Birthday: February 4, 1966

38 years old at the end of this season

The seemingly evergreen Slava enjoyed a bit of a renaissance last year with his inspired and crafty ride at Paris-Roubaix, where he finished third.  A talented time trialist, Ekimov enjoyed huge success as a track rider before his professional road career, setting multiple World records and winning World titles and Olympic medals in the pursuit event. Eki’s talents are inevitably mentioned by Paul Sherwen if someone goes off the front and tries to hold off the bunch in the last kilometer of any race.

Career highlights - 52 victories.  Olympic Time Trial Champion, Championship of Zurich, Tour de France stage win, Vuelta a Espana stage win, 3 Days of DePanne, Russian National Champion, Tour of Holland, Tour DuPont, Tour of China.


Dimitri Konyshev

Team in 2004: LPR-Piacenza (TT2)

Professional since 1989, started pro career with Alfa-Lum

Entering 16th pro season

Birthday: February 18, 1966

38 years old at the end of this season

 The man from Gorki was part of the vanguard of former Soviet riders joining the European professional peloton in the late 80’s.  Dimi was always up for the big races, oft times grabbing a late contract for the next season as a result of good placings in high-profile events, notably the Tour and World Championships. A convert to “la dolce vita”, up until 2003, he had spent his entire career on Italian teams.

Career highlights - 35 victories.  3 Giro d’Italia stage wins, 3 Tour de France stage wins, 1 Vuelta a Espana stage win, Soviet National Champion, Russian National Champion, Coppa Sabatini, Coppa Agostini, GP Fourmies,  Silver and Bronze Medalist at World Road Championships.


Andrea Tafi

Team in 2004: Alessio (TT1)

Professional since 1989, started pro career with Eurocar

Entering 16th pro season)

Birthday: May 7, 1966

38 years old at the end of this season

The Gladiator has won 5 World Cup races, including what many consider two of the hardest one-day races in the world, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the grueling Paris-Roubaix race.  For years a powerful workhorse of the talented Mapei mega-squad, Tafi came into his own as a winner in the late nineties, stringing together five World Cup wins in a seven-year span.  The Tuscan has a love for the cobbles and is a fan favorite because of his work ethic and balls to the wall racing style. Tafi has placed in the top ten in the World Cup classics 17 times.  This will most likely be his farewell season.

Career highlights - 30 victories.  Paris-Roubaix, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Tours, Giro di Lombardia, Rochester Classic, Italian National Champion, Italian World Championship team.


Jacky Durand

Team in 2004: Landbouwkrediet (TT1)

Professional since 1990, started pro career with Castorama

Entering 15th pro season

Birthday: February 10, 1967

37 years old at the end of this season

The expert of the sometimes successful, oft-times suicidal, long raid, “Dudu” has been equally proficient in getting serious TV face time for his sponsors and drawing the ire of his competitors for his antics.  Made the bandana look popular. 

A crowd favorite, he has worn both the Yellow Jersey and the KOM jersey at the Tour de France and the Golden Jersey at the Vuelta.  He won the Coeur de Lion Most Combative Rider award at the Tour de France in 1998.  From the same village as Marc Madiot (later to be his DS at FDJ), as a youngster, Jacky used to careen around town on the bike pretending he was Madiot.  His style of racing is best summed up with his quote "I don't mind being beaten, what I hate is being beaten when I haven't tried”.

Career highlights - 28 victories.  Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Tours, 2 Tour de France stage wins, 2 times French National Champion.


Max Sciandri

Team in 2004: CSC (TT1)

Professional since 1989, started pro career with Titabonifica,

Entering 16th pro season

Birthday: February 15, 1967

37 years old at the end of this season

Well known to the English-speaking fans through the media coverage of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen and from his time on Motorola, this Anglo-Italian born in Derbyshire has represented Great Britain at the World Championships and Olympic Games, but remains a true Italian in every sense of the word.  After a breakout year in 1992, Mad Max quickly garnered a reputation as a “nearly-man”, coming agonizingly close to pulling out some big wins, but more often than not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Career highlights - 31 victories. Leeds Classic World Cup race, 3 Giro d’Italia stage wins, 1 Tour de France stage win, Tour of Luxembourg, Kellogg’s Tour of Britain, Giro del Lazio, Coppa Placi. Olympic Games Bronze Medalist.


Mario Cipollini

Team in 2004:  Domine Vacanze (TT2)

Professional since 1989, started pro career with Del Tongo

Entering 16th pro season

Birthday: March 23, 1967

37 years old at the end of this season

Owner of more nicknames and hairstyles throughout his career than you can count, the “Lion King” enjoyed a golden year in 2002, winning his beloved Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem, six stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, 3 stage wins at the Vuelta and then capped it off with the World Championship in Zolder.  In 2003, he broke Alfredo Binda’s record for stage wins in the Giro d’Italia.

Love him or hate him, Cipo gets publicity for his sponsors and knows how to work the media.  Renowned for a variety of wild cycling kit over the years, including the Tiger outfit, the Muscle Suit and Caesar’s toga, the self-styled “Fastest Man in the World” is still a force to be reckoned with in sprint finishes.  Despite a season spent in relative anonymity in the Rainbow Jersey (although he did win two Giro stages), he remains the man all the sprinters measure themselves against.  Not bad for someone who spent time in a sanitarium with lung problems as a kid.

Career highlights - 185 victories. World Champion, Milan San Remo, Italian National Champion, 42 Giro d’Italia stage wins and twice winner of the Points Jersey, 12 Tour de France stage wins, 3 Vuelta a Espana stage wins, 3 times winner of Ghent-Wevelgem and many other races, too numerous to mention.

Photo credits:  All photos © Tony Szurly (except Konyshev © AFP and Durand ©

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