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Interview with Viatcheslav Ekimov
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 2/7/2005
Interview with Viatcheslav Ekimov
 

On the second day of Discovery Channel Team training camp, I had the opportunity to sit down with Eki and talk about training, the team, and yes, even that infamous hand gesture from Stage 20 of the 2004 Tour de France.


Viatcheslav Ekimov at the Discovery Channel Team camp. Click for larger image. Photo by Cathy Mehl.

How was the training ride today?

Eki: A little long for the second day. I have jet lag. We stayed in a hotel Monday night because the road was blocked.

When had you arrived in Maryland? A few days before the team presentation?

No, it was all in a row! For me it was totally a nightmare. I took my plane in Barcelona. There were some problems and we were sitting four hours on the plane without it moving. They were fixing the plane and it was full of people inside. So I missed my flight in London, and I got to Washington DC late. I had a very short nightís sleep, only two hours. Then the big presentation and then fly to LA.

Well, now youíre here and the weather has cleared up. Every year when the team arrives the weather gets good, so we want to thank you for that! I know a lot of people ask you about all the Tours youíve ridden, fourteen of them. Do you see a reason you need to limit the number of future Tours you will ride?

Well, I think this year I have a good chance of riding the Tour. This yearís Tour has less mountains, two mountain stages were cut. More flat stages. And the TTT is very important this year. I think there is a chance for me to start. And then for next year weíll have to see.

If Lance doesnít race the Tour, you would still race the Tour? Your participation doesnít have to be linked with his, correct?

I would still try. Why not? The record for most Tours is sixteen and only one Dutch guy has that. But two or three guys have fifteen. I think sixteen is not a problem, but seventeen could be overwhelming!

Youíve been a professional for sixteen years. How do you stay motivated all the time? How do you get up and love to keep riding the bike?

Well, if you take cycling as a job and you accept your job seriously, then it becomes easier. The only thing you need to know is what races youíll do in the year and then you focus on certain periods. Itís almost impossible to go the entire year and be at the same (fitness) level, so I am focusing on the Classic season because those races are ones I can do well. I would like to ride and do well in the Tour of Georgia in the United States. Then I would take a break. And start the summer for the Tour de France. May be later the Tour of Poland.

With no Olympics this year it eases off your requirements for training in that direction.

Especially the year after Olympic Games is a hard year. Being on the Olympic podium is like being in the sky! And you have to come back down.

(I told Eki that I wasnít sure if he realized how many fans he had in America, but on the day of the Olympic TT, with him, Tyler and Bobby on the podium, it almost felt like an USA sweep, as we think of him as one of our own. He laughed at that one.)

I saw you race at the Tour de Georgia last year. That was really fun. Did you like that race?

Oh, yeah, I loved that race. The atmosphere was totally great. To see all those people. We had a good team, and a big camper bus.

I saw when the guy crashed the [team] bus into the stop sign! I heard a big scraping noise and looked up to see the stop sign sticking out of the side of the bus!

We had a special driver! That was a great time, a really great time.

What did you think of the stage to Brasstown Bald?

As far as I can remember, in all US races there is some special stage or climb in the race. Itís always like this. I think itís okay for one day.

The crowds were insane!

It was nice to be inside that crowd. Really nice feelings.

People treated you well?

Oh yeah! Totally no problem.

I saw you race in San Francisco also. What do you think of that race?

Well, itís a hard race, and especially since this race happens in September. Itís a little bit late in the season. And also itís so far to travel. From Europe you need four or five days to be in the US before the race to get settled, but we never get that much time. We arrive on Wednesday, start training on Thursday, so we train Thursday, Friday and Saturday, plus all the team sponsors and meetings.


Eki before the start of the 2002 San Francisco Grand Prix. Photo by Jaime Nichols.

Yeah, I saw you at Niketown.

Yeah, Niketown. So you are never in the hotel (resting); youíre either on a bike or somewhere else and itís difficult. Itís a quick trip. I like this race. Itís real fun and itís a very selective race which is what I prefer. And if you feel good, you can do well.

Do you come to the United States for reasons other than cycling?

So far only for cycling. But I have my childhood dream to cross America with a camper or a car. Take it easy. Take my time. See some nice places. Grand Canyon. Yosemite. Take a tourist guide and just drive. Take months and months, just take it easy. So I think someday I will do that, after I stop cycling. Because I love the States. Itís a nice country and there are nice people. There are many things to see. But with a bike race you miss all these things.

But you miss seeing all the scenery in Europe, too, right?

But Iím living there so itís no big deal. If you miss something, it stays on your side all the time so you can go back! (Pauses) But you never go back!

But you COULD go back!

Exactly! But to the States, itís pretty far. To come over here you have to be ready and to find the time to see things. You have to plan it.

Do you live in Gerona like some of your teammates?

No, Tortosa.

Is that close to Gerona? Do you train with teammates in Gerona?

No, itís 300K south of Gerona.

Do you have a group of riders to train with that live near you?

†Photo by Cathy Mehl.
There are a couple of riders. But I train alone. Iím used to training alone.

You prefer that?

Yes.

Itís not hard to get up and go do it?

No, itís much easier once you get used to doing it this way than to go with a group. First of all, you concentrate on the things you are doing on the bike. You can focus on some climbs or some part of the training course, and you donít talk to others and no one is disturbing you. You go at your own tempo. Itís great.

I want to ask you about the Team Time Trial in the 2004 Tour. I know there had been internet chat about whether Noval was experienced enough to be on the team. And then during the TTT he was dropped. I know it wasnít your decision to leave him behind, and I understand that of course the team keeps going. But was it upsetting to you at all during the event to have to leave him behind? He seemed so young and vulnerable, I wondered if the older teammates felt bad about what was happening? I guess this is a chick type question!

Well, the Team Time Trial is a very special race and itís more special than a Time Trial. In the Time Trial you just compete against the clock and yourself. But with the Team Time Trial you have to be ready from the very first moment. Sometimes, especially the young guys, they take it too easy in the warm-up and think they will take it easy at first in the race and catch up later.

But a team goes straight to the red zone, and if you are not able to follow the team, you are dropped. Itís just a fact. A team goes 10K faster than you can do. Maybe after 30K you would feel better, but the team is not there anymore, theyíve gone up the road. Thatís why I say itís very special. But the Tour is not only the Team Time Trial. Benjamin did excellent work in the following weeks.

I liked it that the team waited for him before the podium presentation and seemed to encourage him, telling him there was a lot more Tour to ride. And he totally proved himself in the mountains.

I think the team would be more disappointed if guys like me or George were dropped from the Team Time Trial. Then itís a real unit dropped, part of the big engines. It wasnít too bad for us. We need to have nine guys to do well and have our recovery time. But itís better we ride without one slower guy than have that one guy slow down the entire team. Itís very important to be steady in this event.

Itís a beautiful event. Itís so much fun to watch, and itís exciting. And you guys sure look happy when you win!

Exactly!

You have some new riders on the team. Do you have much interaction with the new, younger riders, or do the older riders kind of keep to themselves?

Yeah, I interact with them. The young guys donít hesitate to ask something or to ride side by side with us. I think the atmosphere is good.

Yes, when the group rode by today it was like a language course was taking place!

Fifteen nations!

Do you like coming to camp?

I do. Itís nice. The only problem for me isÖ..

Itís too damn far!

Yeah! First of all itís far. Secondly we donít have enough time to recover from our traveling here and we have to be good from the first day. And the third issue is that itís not for long enough, itís a pretty short time. And sometimes you look at this training camp and you think of it as the first race. Because for me today was an easy day. But that last climb we did, I thought to myself, ďOh, I think weíve started racing now!Ē And then everyday itís more, more, more. But itís okay. I like it.

I think I read somewhere that you thought youíd have around 4000K in your legs by camp.

More. Yeah, I have 5500K now.

Popovych is on your team now. Do you know him?

Heís a pretty young guy and the first time I met him was last year. I knew he was going to sign with the team so I started paying attention to him. But I never knew him before. I think heís a good guy. Today we spent four hours together and he asked a lot of questions.

The team seems like a friendly group. Is that true? Or do some people have a hard time fitting in? Does Johan take special care to make sure that doesnít happen?

So far I think we donít have any guys that are hard to get along with. I think all the guys are feeling like part of the family. But weíve only just started! Nobodyís tired of anybody yet!

Right. Youíre not avoiding anyone in the lobby yet!

Itís only the second day, so maybe crisis is on the way! But so far I think itís going to be okay.


Ekimov at the HEW Cyclassics 2003. Photo by Christine Grein, Capture the Peloton.

Do you know any of the other new signings? Hammond? Danielson? Beppu?

Iíve seen those guys in the races sometimes, but if you donít know for sure this guy is going to sign next year with the team, then you donít pay much attention to them as they are just one of two hundred riders. When you hear that this guy is coming to the team you start checking out the guy, how he is moving the bike, how he is doing in the race.

Sometimes the deals happen at the end of the year when all the races are over so you have to read about it on the internet.

You seem to enjoy riding your bike. So can you describe to me your perfect day on a bike? How many miles would you ride? Where would you ride? Who would you be with?

The perfect day would be sunny, no wind, 20 to 25C, in Spain, rolling hills, no mountains, just rolling hills, and between five and six hours, riding on my own.

On your own?

Yes, on my own.

Do you listen to music when you ride?

Yes, I listen to my iPod.

What are you listening to right now?

Oh, so many things. For a warm up maybe rap music, Fifty Cent. Then switch to more hard music. Maybe Metalica. It depends on the thing you need to do on the bike. Sometimes you need some music to push you harder.

Okay, so now describe for me your perfect day not on a bike. What would you do?

(Hestitates) Oh, ummmmÖ

Well, if you didnít have to actually physically travel to be there, just poof and youíre there, where would you be?

Probably I would stay somewhere in Russia. Maybe my place, having fun with friends. Bar-be-ques. Sauna.

You live in St. Petersburg?

Yeah, St. Petersburg.

Do you have a big family?

My mom and my brother live in St. Petersburg. And my wife and kid live in Spain.

Does your family join you at any of the races?

Now they get used to it, especially my mom. Sheís gotten used to it that Iím a professional racer but every year she asks me to stop, stop, stop. And already itís 20 years in a row that sheís asked!

Is she worried about you?!

Yeah, she thinks Iím going to get hurt. Mom is always Mom!

Thatís right; we moms donít back down! What does she want you to do instead of racing?

Well, I donít know! I have no idea! Iíve asked her that question: ďMom, what is the job?!Ē

So what do you see yourself doing when you retire? Do you like being involved with a team? Would you want to be a director?

I think the dream would be to have a sport director position in a team. Iíd like to make the strategies for the race and give instructions to the guys. Iíd like to organize the whole unit of the team. I think I can do that. Iíve been a professional for sixteen years. I know what is good for a rider and what is not good.

Youíve been a professional for such a long time at such a high level of competition and success, and several Olympic Games, I think you have a fascinating story. Do you have any interest in having a biography or autobiography written about your life?

I will do that. Now I am looking for a good author, because normally I donít have time to do that. It must be an experienced author and I will just give them ideas and they will write the book.

Like Lance did with Sally Jenkins?

Exactly.

Well, you have to promise youíll publish it in English as well as Russian.

Oh, yes, if my book will be released, there will be two versions, English and Russian.

Youíve had a long career so far. Youíd have a lot of chapters!

I have my diary from everyday.

A personal diary?

Yeah. I write out the highlights, hours, kilometers, how we did in a race, training, feelings. Iíve been doing that for more than twenty years.

Oh my gosh!

Every day. I have a record of every day of my career.

Youíre so methodical.

When I started, my coach taught me and it was an obligation to the team. And I got used to it and itís helpful. Especially when you train on your own and there is no coach in sight, you just take a good year, you open the book and you see what you did in the preparation and you can repeat that.

What are your goals for this season?

I would like to do a good Classics season, especially Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

One last question. In Stage 20 of last yearís Tour, the team had to chase down Simeoni. We saw on tv that you made a little hand-gesture as the team caught him There was much discussion on the internet after that about what the gesture meant. So my question for you is, were you being a Texan or an Italian that day?

(Big laugh from Eki at this point) A Texan! That was sad. To see a guy doing these things, itís hard to talk about. He tried to be against the entire peloton. Itís just too much. In the peloton I gave him this sign (demonstrates the Texas ďHook ĎemĒ sign) for one second without any word. In the peloton sometimes it moves left and sometimes it moves right. There are so many things that can happen and bad words and bad signs are made all the time. No one says anything or complains. Everyone just takes it as it comes, as part of the job. But if this guy is getting pissed just because of one sign, he probably had better stop racing. He did not say anything to me about the sign, just went to talk to journalists. I donít take this guy seriously. I have no time for him.

Well, we were glad Eki had time for the Daily Peloton, and we wish him another successful season, with special hopes that he racks up that fifteenth Tour come July. Living proof that hard work and dedication bring about cycling success, Viatcheslav Ekimov is a cycling icon, and was a pleasure to meet.


†Photo by Cathy Mehl.

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