Russian Denis Galimzyanov is one of the sprint revelations of the season so far. The 24 year old rider with Katusha was up there in the results right at the start of 2011 with placings in the Tour of Qatar and Oman before taking his first full win in the second stage of the Three Days of De Panne (note he’d won a TTT with Katusha in 2010) and took home the points jersey too.
Who is he? Well nobody knows. Katusha aren’t the most open of teams but this guy looks like someone you can’t ignore. I got curious and tracked down some info on him, giving myself a headache last night trying to recall my pidgin Russian to translate relevant info. For me at least it was worth it as it turns out he’s probably the only pro with classical piano skills. Plus he knows karate.
First, you might want to pronounce his name right. The Russian first name of Denis already got massacred by Englishman Paul Sherwen as “Denny” when the TV commentator tried to talk about Denis Menchov. But for Russians it’s a bit like Den-iysh. You can get the full name, courtesy of Forvo.com.
Next up he’s aged 24 and from near Yekaterinburg. Russia’s third largest city, it sits in the centre of the country, just to the east of Ural mountains. It’s famous for blisteringly cold winters and the city has long been an inner fortress in Russia, a haven over the centuries from the political turmoil and warfare in the likes of Moscow or St Petersburg.
He was not from a family of cyclists. His parents weren’t supportive of cycling, preferring that he went to music school to play the piano but he was riding the bike almot every day too. A young Denis spent several years in musical school practising as a classical pianist but visiting the local velodrome. But he quit the piano, much to the annoyance of his parents, and went to sports school full time.
He did karate but enjoyed cycling in his youth and turned to this. Like many boys it was a means to get away from home and hang out with friends. He started racing and soon found himself on the conveyor belt system of state sport in Russian where you get on and try to stay on, with the slim chance of a career at the end of it.
School of hard knockski
Yekaterinburg in the 1990s must have been a wild place and the sports system was tough. “It was a struggle just to get basic equipment” he told Russian TV. “When we started in the cycling section maybe 25 or 30 boys were signed up. There were so many subscriptions, but there was only enough equipment for 10 people“. At an early age he learned that “only the most stubborn survived“.
Aged 15 he went away to St Petersburg, almost 2,000km away, to join a dedicated youth racing team that feeds the Olympic program. He thrived and aged 20, he joined the new “Premier” team. This was a squad launched to allow young Russians to compete internationally and within weeks of joining mid-season he took his first win at elite level.
The next year more wins followed at international level, including the GP Sotchi and the prologue of the Tour of Hainan in China. This success attracted interest from pro outfit Team Tinkoff and he signed a contract, only for the team to change name to Katusha, growing in budget and roster. He was placed with the development team of U-23 riders and took an early win with a stage in the Tour of Normandie.
He turned pro in 2009. One second place and two fifth places were his best results. Come 2010 and he took 13 top-10 placings in pro races but no win and as such, few really noticed him. Now he’s been racing at an even higher level, getting placings in Qatar, Oman, Paris-Nice and dueling with the biggest sprinter around. Now he’s started winning.
As an amateur he was a lot more than a sprinter. He took stage race honours, won time trials and more. But this is common, for example Tom Boonen got a podium in the U-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, something unachievable in the senior ranks.
So it remains to be seen if Galimzyanov stays a sprinter or grows into something else. The steady progress and his solid build suggest he could become a classics contender like Boonen, or Thor Hushovd but that might be some way off. His season’s goals are his first grand tour at the Vuelta a España, with a view to building for the Worlds in Copenhagen which is his main goal of the season and where he want a result.
Right now Katusha are considering a start in the Tour de France but only for the first 10 days but this is unlikely for now. You heard it here first.
Much of the information here is from an interview with Russian TV. My Russian’s weak and it took me 10 replays just to note the basics, despite his crisp accent. If you can help with any additional info, please leave a comment or email me.