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Interview with Viatcheslav Ekimov
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 2/25/2006
Interview with Viatcheslav Ekimov
 
What did you think of the openin

Viatcheslav Ekimov is often touted as a racing icon. His longevity and many championships in the sport of cycling are looked up to by other riders and his notoriety as a consummate teammate to Lance Armstrong will long be remembered. Ekimov doesn't race much on US soil so when he does it's a tremendous pleasure to sit down and talk with him about the sport of cycling. We met up the evening of the Prologue at the Amgen Tour of California.

Daily Peloton: What did you think of the opening Prologue up to Coit Tower?

Ekimov: Well, unfortunately I didn't have so much time for warming up (due to an early start time). But I feel good and am satisfied with my form and am looking forward to doing something in a later stage. The yellow jersey belongs to another team so we can just enjoy the race and try different things.

Daily Peloton: Right. It's nice that it's not up to Discovery to control things. Do you like those short Prologues or do you prefer something longer?

Ekimov: I've never been so good in the Prologue. The best I've ever done in a Prologue was second place in Dauphine Libere many years ago. I think maybe I got third once in Tour de Suisse a couple of years ago. I'm never that good.

You did have an early start time for the Prologue, too.

Yeah, 10 o'clock is a little early and still a little chilly. But it doesn't matter when you go. If you want to do well in a Prologue you have to prepare yourself and do specific training. I just like to think about the entire race. I'm not just looking at one day. There will be other opportunities for me in this race.

I want to ask you about your injury last year and how you worked your way back from that. Had you had an injury that severe in your career prior to that one?

This was the first time for such a bad injury. Today I feel almost 100% back to normal compared to when it happened. The doctor who did my surgery promised I'd be in good shape six months after the surgery. It's been eight months and I think the doctor was right. I have three vertebrae fused and I don't feel that at all. So I will keep my fingers crossed that everything is okay.

When you had the injury were you worried at first that it was serious enough to be career-ending?

Well, first I was shocked and I wasn't thinking about my career but about my life. I didn't want to be in a wheel chair for the rest of my life. But then I figured out it was broken vertebrae so that is not so bad. It would mean just missing a season, and the Tour de France, not ending my career. I was thinking maybe to make my comeback last September to be sure that I was ready, then I could go into the wintertime relaxed in my head knowing I was okay. So I raced in September and October. Then I started training hard in December.

I know you keep a journal of your training kilometers. So what numbers are you at right now?

Well so far since December 1st I've done 9,000 kilometers. It's a good base. Now I need more specific work, speed endurance, things like that.

When you had your injury, did it bother you a lot that you wouldn't be there for Lance's final Tour?

It was the thing I missed the most. It's the competition I cared the most about. It would have been nice to race with Lance in his last Tour as he ended his career. And for me it would have been fifteen Tours. I'm super close to the record of sixteen Tours completed. But to beat that record I would have to do three more Tours and I guess it's still possible to do but it's not important to me now. I think there are other things on my wish list, like getting the Gold Medal from the 2004 Olympics.

Is that still being pursued by your country's sports federation?

Yes, the Russian Olympic Committee has appealed to the Court of Arbitration and I think the case will soon be opened. Since Tyler now has the official suspension I think the case will go forward. I feel bad for Tyler but if something happens, it happens.

Were you friends with Tyler when you were on the same team?

He's a good guy. We didn't always keep in touch when he was on our team. I wouldn't say we are close friends but definitely we are not enemies. I just feel sorry that something has happened to Tyler. But life is life and if it's true, then the medal should be returned. He will have to prove to the court that he is not guilty, he will have to defend the medal.

Do you think there is another Olympic Games in your future?

Yes, I would like to be on an Olympic team again. But it's almost three years to go and I'm not looking ahead that far. I am just going year by year.

You've gone two other times?

Three times. Three times, three medals.

That's impressive.

Yes, that's the reason to go four times! (Laughs)

Where do you keep your medals at home?

I have a frame that the gold medal sits inside. Sometimes I keep them at my home in St. Petersburg, sometimes at my home in Spain. Sometimes I show them to my friends. And sometimes I just take a look at them and some nice memories come up in my head.

What does your son say about your cycling career? Does he understand that his father has had an incredible career and is well-respected in the sport of cycling?

I am hoping that he wants to do the same as his dad. But I realize it's a different time and a different situation. I was part of the sport system in my country so sport was the main thing in my life. For my son it is absolutely different.

You went and lived in the sport system? You didn't live with your family?

No, I left my house when I was twelve. My son is thirteen and he still lives with his mom. That's already different.

Wow, do you ever think about him moving away from you and living in a system like that? It's sort of mind-boggling.

Yeah, and that's something I don't want. I don't want to wish that for my son. It's was very hard and sometimes dramatic. I think he has more opportunities to build his life in a different way. And I always try to explain to him what happens in sport. It doesn't matter what kind of sport: you will miss your family. You are going to miss many things in your life if you are dedicated to a sport. You won't be able to educate yourself or go straight to a job when you're finished (with sport) or if something bad happens to you, so I told my son he'd better get some education before he switched to sport.

Is your son athletic?

Yeah, he's very much into sports. He rides his bike and he's into tennis.

Does he race you?

(Big laugh) In the past couple of months he's been going crazy on the descents on his mountain bike.

Does he ask you for advice?

Well, he can probably advise me in that sport. Sometimes I see what he's doing and I shake my head no, no, no. I'm not going to take those kinds of risks. He's amazing on a bike. I've tried to change the way he rides a bike so he will get more exercise on the bike and learn to suffer more. So far he just likes to go down hill!

But you want him to know what your day is really like! (We both laugh)

Exactly! He's still young. He's only thirteen.

Do you still ride on the track?

No, not any more.

Do you miss that?

No, I don't think so. I mean I've got a gold medal from the Olympics. I have more than eight gold medals from World Championships. There is nothing that I've missed.

You've done it all.

Yes, I've done it all. And in a good way.

And more than once!

I wish to do the same on the road. It's a different kind of sport.

So what was it like for you last summer missing the Tour? Did you watch it on TV?

Well, I only watched the crucial mountain stages. It was July and I was just starting to ride my bike again so I was happy to go out of my apartment and move around again. The time of the Tour is in the middle of the afternoon, and it was such a nice summer with lots of sunshine so I wanted to be outside. I preferred to walk around in the nice weather rather than watch the flat stages. Just boring! But I saw all the crucial stages. And the Team Time Trial.

What about the day George won Stage 15? What were you thinking?

I just kept saying to the television, "George, don't make a mistake!" He was in a brilliant situation. He sat in the back of the break all day long. You could see on his face that he was feeling good. "Don't miss the move! Don't miss anything!" It was exciting for sure. I was so happy for George. He's been second a lot and always so close, so it was such a great win. It was the moment. And the day Paolo won was nice to watch too. The tactic was good.

So what races are on your program this year? Does it change since Lance is gone?

My next race is Tirreno Adriatico, then a week in Belgium at Three Days of de Panne, then Tour de Georgia, then straight to the Giro d'Italia, then I'm on the list for the Tour.

Have you done the Giro before?

Yeah, once. I think it's a good race and I'll be happy to help Paolo win it another time. We're all excited to go there.

People seem to want to talk about your age a lot. Do you personally think about your age much?

Not really, I'm just going year by year. I sign my contracts year by year. Then I can decide each year if I should keep going. I definitely want to go to the Beijing Olympics, so I need to keep riding until then.

When you think about retiring what do you think you'll do?

Definitely I want to stay in this sport, and I think I could become a sports director and teach young riders what to do. I think the dream will be to say with this team.

It's great that you've made the trip to Tour of California. We don't get to see you race that often. What are your impressions of the race?

I think this race is very special for the American riders and for the American people. I hope that this race becomes a big tour. It's great to see that everyone is serious about the race and have come here to put up big numbers. It's going to be exciting.

And indeed it has been. A personal thank-you to PJ Rabice for arranging this interview for me.



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