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The Rise of Aleksandr Vlasov

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Aleksandr Botcharov’s been knocked of his perch. Until today he’d been the best Russian rider called Aleksandr to race up Mont Ventoux thanks to his second place on the mountain in a stage of the Tour de France back in 2004. Today Aleksandr Vlasov won the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge race ahead of Richie Porte and Guillaume Martin. Here’s a closer look at the Astana rider’s career so far.

  • Say it: Vlasov in English sounds like “vlar-sov” but in Russian, Власов is more “Blaa-souv”

Aleksandr Vlasov was born in in 1996 in the city of Vyborg, a place even more to the northwest of Russia than Saint Petersburg, and a place that was part of Finland for the first half of the last century. Cyclists might know it because of Viatcheslav Ekimov. Vlasov doesn’t come from a cycling family and after trying football and some judo he got into cycling from the age of seven or eight, different interviews cite both ages, but either way it’s early. After winning local and regional races he rose up the ranks. He was a strong junior, joining the Russian team to win the GP General Patton, a race in Luxembourg that’s among the best on the international junior calendar.

Many move to Italy advance their cycling careers in the U23 ranks and Vlasov could see this was the next step. He joined the Viris Maserati team in 2016. It’s based in the Milanese suburbs and the Maserati name comes from the club president, not a sports car sponsorship. At first Vlasov didn’t speak a word of Italian but in time went fluent to the point where he told Russian website rsport if he’s in Italy he can start thinking in Italian and when he returns to Russia he’ll switch back his thoughts to Russian. He had a decent start including sixth in the hard, hilly GP Capodarco. He rode the Tour de l’Avenir for the first time and, still aged 20, managed a fourth place in the summit finish to Les Carroz in the French Alps, a long, grinding climb, one place behind compatriot Pavel Sivakov.

He returned to Viris Maserati but the squad’s presentation, as told by the BiciTV.it website, seemed more excited about others on the team like Jacopo Mosca and Matteo Moschetti, now both at Trek-Segafredo, plus Italo-Russian Alexander Konychev, son of Russian pro Dimitri and today at Mitchelton-Scott. In the team photo Vlasov lurks back row and on the right of the image rather than centre stage. From here on there’s a steady rise up the ranks, 11th in the U23 Giro’s time trial stage in 2017 didn’t set the world on fire but for a climber aged 21 it put him in good company. It was enough to get a pro contract with Gazprom-Rusvelo, the de facto Russian national team with its Italian twist, think the Colnago bikes and management by Olivano Locatelli.

2018 was the breakout season but in the amateur ranks. Vlasov had started the season racing with Gazprom-Rusvelo in pro races like Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Alps but joined the Russian national team for the U23 “Baby” Giro in June. A man amongst babies? Yes but he was rock steady. The Colombian team with Alejandro Osorio, now at Caja Rural and Cristian Camilo, today with UAE Emirates, outclimbed Vlasov in the mountain stages, but only just. It left Vlasov just eight seconds behind Osorio on the eve of the final day’s racing, a split stage with a time trial in the afternoon and Vlasov looked set to overhaul the Colombian in the TT only for Osorio to crash with 5km to go in the morning’s sprint stage and lose the jersey.

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2019 saw Vlasov consolidate with a strong ride in the Tour of the Alps. While Sky’s Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart ran away with the race, Vlasov made the top-10 too and had a spell in the white jersey. Then came the pro podiums, first in Asturias, and while Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa were in a league of their own on the eve of the Giro, Vlasov was third behind them. Onto the Tour of Slovenia and third overall again and then at the end of June, the Russian national title. While everyone was watching the Tour de France, Vlasov rode the Tour of Austria and finished 5th overall and took his first pro win in the Kitzbüheler Horn summit finish. At about this point the rumours started that he was going to Astana. When or how the deal was done isn’t public but Vlasov’s agent led the move, with Astana offering more than Mitchelton-Scott. Awkward: here was the Russian champion on the Russian national team going to arch rivals Astana of Kazakhstan and, so the whispers go, Gazprom were not very happy to put it mildly. Vlasov ended the year with second place in the Tour of Almaty.

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Vlasov hit the headlines with his stage win earlier this year in the Tour de la Provence, winning on the Route des Crêtes above La Ciotat on a day when the likes of Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana were expected. Still it was windy and did Vlasov win in part because he got a gap while the others marked each other, including Vlasov’s leader Alexey Lutsenko? Maybe, but you don’t drop everyone by chance and with some hindsight maybe he just rode away. But that was all we got to see before the Covid-19 lockdowns were imposed and sport was paused, the last glimpse in the weak winter light was that of Vlasov on Mont Ventoux, unable to match Quintana.

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On resumption Vlasov showed even better on the Col de Beyrède in the Route d’Occitanie with a third place behind Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov, holding on to the Ineos tandem longer than the rest.

Winning today on Mont Ventoux is only a step onto something else. It’s a nice race with a prestigious location but the significance is the 50 minute climb and dropping the likes of Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana in a straight climbing contest, do this once and normally you can do it again. In the short term there’s also some workplace politics with Miguel Angel Lopez who’s looking out of shape at the moment but is supposed to lead Astana in the Tour de France. Will team boss Vinokourov start looking at Vlasov for an emergency substitution? Normally the Giro is meant to be Vlasov’s big target this year, albeit in service of Jacob Fuglsang. Longer term Vlasov dreams of winning a grand tour and cites Tom Dumoulin as his inspiration, “excellent in the time trials but also on climbs“.

There’s been a stream of Russian riders over the years who’ve impressed in the U23 ranks only to almost disappear in the pro ranks. Now plenty of U23 talent stalls but it seemed almost intrinsic to Russians, think Matvey Mamykin, Aleksey Rybalkin, Sergei Chernetsky, Mikhail Ignatiev, Sergey Firsanov, Anton Vorobyev and Aleksandr Foliforov who resembled U23 “meteors” that burned brightly but briefly, there was hardly time to take an interest in them, some were picks of “riders to watch” only the results didn’t follow. Besides when this blog did look at Russia rider Dennis Galimzyanov, spending an evening on Russian youtube, he got rumbled for EPO and banned soon after. Foliforov did win a Giro stage in 2016, the mountain time trial to Alpe di Siusi but oddly retired 18 months after that. Vlasov appears different, even more results in the U23 ranks and now he’s building on them with significant pro wins and ahead of some of the bigger names. He’s also looking more complete than Ilnur Zakarin, who is 30 now, and could be feature for a while which is why it’s been worth reading up about him.

  • Botcharov? He turned pro in 2000 with Ag2r La Mondiale and enjoyed a decade as a pro with three wins including the overall title at the Tour of the Med and that second place on Mont Ventoux to Richard Virenque. All this time he lived in the Pyrenees and one day a fellow Russian pro decided to move to the same village, it was Alexei Sivakov. His son Pavel is a whole other story.

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  • DJW Thursday, 6 August 2020, 9:47 pm

    AG2R, in the absence of Bardet, saved by Latour today in a home race. GC and mountain hopes must be a worry for next season with both Latour and, seemingly, Bardet leaving. A French WT team needs a good climber/GC rider. With Citroën they’ll have the budget though few GC riders are out of contract to choose from: Woods, Yates, Porte, Aru, Majka, Zakarin… Take your pick.

    As for Vlasov, he almost made it look easy: Porte at 100% and Vlasov at 95%? Impressive

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 6 August 2020, 10:53 pm

      Ag2r don’t have to hire in a hurry, they’ve got two large and patient sponsors. Porte’s off to Ineos and among the other names Simon Yates would be the big prize but an unlikely signing.

      I think Vlasov was at 100% today, he was perched on the tip of his saddle today but he rode an intelligent race, he didn’t waste energy.

      • AndyW Friday, 7 August 2020, 9:45 am

        Is there an obvious reason for two of AG2R’s biggest riders leaving just as the money comes into the team?

        • The Inner Ring Friday, 7 August 2020, 9:57 am

          Both have had long term contracts come up. I think Latour was seen as an understudy for Bardet but he’s not cut out to grinding out grand tour results, he likes to attack and express himself on the bike. Bardet probably fancies a change, to reset things and can probably command a good deal from Sunweb, as much Ag2r might match.

    • Lukyluk Friday, 7 August 2020, 7:35 am

      Not quite a “home” race, they’re based in Chambery. Or did you mean a race in France?

      From what I heard they’re hoping to draw their eye to the classics for the next season or two, on the cobbles with Naesen/GVA and in the French classics with Cosnefroy (and Calmejane is the latest incoming transfer rumor).
      For the mountains they’re counting on young talent (Paret-Peintre, Jauregui, Champoussin…)

      As long as they stay in the WT and don’t have to fight too hard for invites, it could be nice to try out. Who knows if their new sponsor will stick around if they can’t get any results though.
      And there might be an element of having to make do as well – I’m not sure they chose to let go of Latour and Bardet. As an outsider, it looked like they both wanted a new challenge more than a better contract.

      • DJW Friday, 7 August 2020, 8:30 am

        I did mean France for local.
        I accept that GVA should complement Naesen for the cobbled classics where AG2R have been weak, though here in France it’s the hilly stage races which attract the interest and get the coverage: P-N, Dauphiné, TdF… Maybe with the Citroën/PSA sponsorship the team’s interest will be more international. As for your young talent, Champoussin, maybe, but Jauregui is already 26 and Paret-Peintre 24. Not as young as many already winning.

        • Lukyluk Friday, 7 August 2020, 10:41 am

          Good point, the Citroen sponsorship might be what pushed them to focus on classics, to get more coverage outside of the French media.

          I wasn’t suggesting that the young ex-CCF riders would contend for Grand Tour GC, but that’s a hard ask anyway, and I’m not sure Latour would have fared much better – he’s more suited to attacking and going for stages.

          The highlight of a pretty dim 2019 season for AG2R was Nans Peters’ win on the Giro. I suppose that’s what they see as the objective for the next couple years. Who knows if it’s the right call. FWIW I’ve long felt that the team really needs a sprinter, there is Venturini, and Vendrame was a good signing but they’re not big contenders for, say, a flat GT stage.

  • RQS Thursday, 6 August 2020, 11:22 pm

    Third para: “Many moVe” to Italy

  • pax Friday, 7 August 2020, 3:07 am

    Thank you for the informative write up.

  • IanPa Friday, 7 August 2020, 5:03 am

    Feels like you were reading my mind!
    After his win yesterday I was on PCS checking his results out. Thanks for the write up and welcome back.

  • Lukyluk Friday, 7 August 2020, 7:27 am

    Thanks for this piece.
    I’d never considered how many of those U23 hopefuls that faded out were Russian… I could add Matvey Mamykin to the list.
    Russia seems to have enough relays in Italy/Switzerland to develop young riders properly and break into the U23 scene (Gazprom, Astana and their feeder club, formerly the Russian twist in Katusha), but many of them fail to make it at the next level.

    Does anyone have an explanation for this? Different physical conditioning? Different priorities for the national federation?

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 7 August 2020, 8:47 am

      I will add Mamykin to the list above as well. As for the why, hard to say and there are different reasons for different riders, for one at least having a good pro contract allowed them to live the fast life on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy, they put on weight, didn’t train as much, the Katusha team meal ticket contract felt like the end rather than a means to more.

      • Charles Friday, 7 August 2020, 3:29 pm

        Given the mass state sponsored doping program of Russian athletes that’s been proven in recent months could this explain the fall off? Trains and dopes in Russia while a junior, then moves from Russia to Europe, stops doping and quietly fades into background?

        • The Inner Ring Friday, 7 August 2020, 7:35 pm

          It’s hard (read impossible) to prove but it’s likely the biopassport could be a factor in the change for some riders. But careful, this isn’t necessarily particular to Russian riders, the Italian U23 scene has its challenges and so on.

    • brent sword Saturday, 8 August 2020, 1:45 am

      Is there a big difference between Russia and other countries or is it just our perception. As a country without a huge cycling depth it may be easier to notice the juniors from those nations with less depth because they get more attention. I,m not sure and i doubt the stats exist to clarify.

  • UHJ Friday, 7 August 2020, 11:22 am

    Minor point:
    @INRNG: “…start thinking in Italy” – I believe it should be “Italian”.

    As for riding intelligently, Vlasov sure did. He surprise-attacked at the slow rise when it was not expected, got the gap on Porte, a gap that remained to the finish. Porte et al clearly ddidn’t know what to make of it and realised only too late what had happened. If Vlasov decided himself or was directed from the team car I don’t know, but it was clever, with everybody on the limit.

    • J Evans Friday, 7 August 2020, 12:30 pm

      My thoughts during the race were that Porte, as is his way, rode far too conservatively. Why would he not follow Vlasov’s move? By responding later, he denied himself a possible victory. I’m not saying he would have won, but as you say the gap between the two didn’t alter much. Maybe he simply couldn’t respond at that moment, but it is typical of a rider who seems averse to any kind of risk.

      • UHJ Friday, 7 August 2020, 1:16 pm

        I agree with you on that one, J Evans. Porte has taken greater risks before, but here, he apparently didn’t have it.

  • Richard S Friday, 7 August 2020, 12:36 pm

    You could probably argue that holding the wheels of Bernal and Sivakov for a long time on a long climb is more impressive than beating Porte and Quintana these days.

  • Morten Reippuert Friday, 7 August 2020, 8:22 pm

    Vlasov looks like a longtime project to compliment Lutchenko and is in pole position to take over from Vino favourite Fuglsang – once he decides to retire or go to a danish/southafrican registred team (through, i dont see that happening despite rumour mills & and danish tabloid press)

    • Anonymous Saturday, 8 August 2020, 1:19 am

      I agree. The drugs aren’t as good at NTT yet and it might take Riis a bit too long to fix that for Fuglsang.

      • Eskerrik Asko Saturday, 8 August 2020, 7:18 am

        Quite regardless whether “the drugs” are at this point in time less “good” at NTT than they are at Astana (or at any given team or at WT level in general) or what Riis might or might not be up to now that he is back at the helm of a WT team, these kind of comments are not funny, informative or smart.
        They are not amusing in some oblique fashion, there is no reason to assume they are particularly informed, they are not cutting or incisive in a cool manner, they are not even vaguely insteresting and they bring absolutely nothing to a discussion.

        PS If I may present a wish to all who like to contribute a comment: please don’t hide behind “Anonymous”! Think of it as the equivalent of committing the worst infraction you can imagine against the style rule you hold in the greatest regard. (To me: wearing those kneelength socks.) Create or invent a pen name, no matter how silly, inane or pompous – and stick to it!
        If not for any other reason, then perhaps because I’m hardly the only one who finds it hugely irritating to follow a discussion with five or more “Anonymouses”.

        PPS A big and hearty “Welcome back!” from me, too!

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