At least Aleksandr Vlasov didn’t have much time to dwell on the disappointment. The illness meant his 2020 Giro d’Italia debut lasted less than 100 kilometers, but last fall’s condensed schedule saw him return to action in a Grand Tour ahead of the corsa rosa had even reached Milan.
In the days immediately following his return from Sicily, Vlasov watched JoÃ£o Almeida of Deceuninck-QuickStep on television, the man he beat at the Under-23 Giro in 2018, starting his long tenure in the jersey. pink. The overall victory would be contested by men of Vlasov’s generation, but rather than reflect on what might have been had he not had to withdraw from Stage 2 due to stomach disease , the Russian was able to offset some of the frustration when he was drafted to race the Vuelta a EspaÃ±a on short notice.
âI watched the Giro a bit, and thought about the quality of riders my age, but then I put it aside and went to the Vuelta. I just thought about doing well there and I didn’t think about the Giro anymore, âsaid Vlasov. Cycling on the eve of his return to the Giro as the sole leader of Astana-Premier Tech.
Vlasov’s ad hoc Vuelta debut went as well as rushed circumstances allowed. It was hardly a surprise that he lost four minutes on opening day, but he quickly recovered his bearings, placing second over Angliru. His eventual 11th place in Madrid confirmed some suitability for the three-week race.
âI found out what it was like to do a Grand Tour and saw how my body reacted. In the third week I was still pretty good and I was recovering well, âsaid Vlasov. âEveryone says you’re stronger after doing your first Grand Tour, and maybe you are. It was the first time that I had made such a long effort, and I think I handled it well, then I recovered. Maybe now I’m stronger, and I sure know what it’s like to put in an effort like that for three weeks.
Vlasov was already an outsider for the podium before last year’s Giro after triumphs at the Giro dell’Emilia and at the top of Mont Ventoux, and a series of exhibitions that would have attracted the interest of Ineos Grenadiers to acquire his services for 2022. (âWhen the Giro is over, we’ll think about decisions for the future,â Vlasov said cautiously.)
Its assured performances during the first months of 2021 only underscored its credentials even more ahead of this year’s edition. After taking second place behind Max Schachmann at Paris-Nice, Vlasov finished third in the Tour des Alpes last month.
âEverything went as planned, so I’m happy. My form is growing and I could see in the races that I was getting better and better, âsaid Vlasov.
âIn Paris-Nice, I was a little surprised to be already up there with [PrimoÅ¾] RogliÄ, Schachmann and the best riders. Then, the Tour des Alpes gave me a bit of morale, because it confirmed to me that I was fine and that my form was almost perfect.
Vyborg in the Giro
Now residing in Andorra, Vlasov still speaks precise Italian, a legacy of five years living in the country since his late teens. In the three decades since the best Soviet talent turned pro at Alfa Lum, Italy has remained a staging post for promising young Russian talent, and Vlasov has followed the familiar path. After impressing in minors in Russia, he was sent to a finishing school for the Viris Vigevano team near Pavia in his first year out of the junior ranks.
âRenat Khamidulin, the general manager of Gazprom-RusVelo, put me there. He had raced there as an amateur and he asked me if I wanted to go and give it a try, âVlasov said. âIt was the first time that I lived alone, there in Vigevano, and I had to learn Italian quickly to be able to communicate with the other members of the team, but it was a great experience.
After three seasons at Vigevano, Vlasov signed for Gazprom-RusVelo in 2018, where he was able to switch between professional and Under 23 squads.
âI learned professionalism there and I was able to develop myself regularly,â he said. Indeed, he made the step towards the WorldTour before the relatively advanced age (today) of 23 years. “I never did big jumps, I was always going step by step and getting a little better every year.”
Vlasov’s advance in the Under-23 class came as Russia’s presence at WorldTour level began to recede. Tinkoff and Katusha have both left the sport since arriving in Italy in 2015, and the supply line for Russian runners at the highest level has slowed to a trickle. Like fellow Vyborg natives Evgeni Berzin and Vyacheslav Ekimov, Vlasov started his life on two wheels at the local cycling school, but as the bottom of the pyramid remains in place, gaps have appeared higher up.
âThere are two cycling schools in Vyborg. The budget is not very important but at least they are still there. They survive. There are always young pilots from there who achieve results at the national level in Russia. A few came with me, but I think they have all stopped now, âVlasov said.
âThere are a lot of races for young riders in Russia, but there are less for juniors and even less for under 23s. There are no sponsors and there are not a lot of races, so it’s a bit difficult to emerge.
27 years ago another young Vyborg rider in a light blue jersey won the Giro on his second attempt, but while Berzin still lives in Broni, barely an hour from Vigevano, Vlasov has never crossed his path during his stay in Italy. “I know him, of course, but I’ve never met him,” Vlasov said, although he could still end up following in Berzin’s wheel tracks in May.
âI don’t know how it’s going to go but I just want to do well,â he said. âI’ll be focused for the whole three weeks, but I don’t want to think too far now. The end result will come by itself if I am successful day to day.