As known, cyclists are convinced that race is the best workout. Therefore, they probably surpass everyone by the number of starts. But in the pandemic 2020, on the international arena Minsk Cycling Club racers rode only a few one-day races in Turkey. Luckily, they achieved a victory and several top places. On the track, Yauheni Karaliok won the rainbow jersey of the world champion in scratch and got silver at the European Championship in omnium, at the second of the tournaments, Hanna Tserakh won silver in scratch. We asked Aleksei Ivanov, Director of Minsk Cycling Club and member of the Executive Committee of Belarusian Cycling Federation, to comment on such results of the year.

 — Despite all the difficulties, the past year gave us a reason for joy. At both track championships - world and European - the club riders performed well. On the continental one they could have podiumed more than twice. Unfortunately, just the day before, the leader of the women's team, Tatsiana Sharakova, fell ill, and she had every chance to win a medal. Besides, in the elimination race, Raman Tsishkou, I think, was undeservedly deprived of not just a prize place, but, for sure, “gold”. He felt great. Therefore, it is very insulting for Raman. As for Yauheni Karaliok, not only his prizes can be attributed to the acquisitions of the season, but also the fact that Zhenya didn't turn up nose at all and at the same time became more psychologically confident, which was proved in omnium in Plovdiv.

As for the road cycling, no one, of course, expected such a number of competitions cancellations. We have a very serious road team. We even thought, if we didn’t win the Europe Tour, at least finish in the top five. But it is what it is. The main loss, in my opinion, was the debut wreck at the most prestigious women's marathon cycling race “Giro Rosa”, which we managed to break into. Besides, our "Unders" had to participate in the youth "Giro d'Italia". This is the second largest loss.

As for the top tournaments, at the UCI Road World Championships in Imola, Italy, we hoped for a better result in the individual race of Yauheni Karaliok. Unfortunately, he missed the European Road Championships in Plouay, France, although we insisted on his participation in this event. And then, before his debut on the planetary forum, he caught some kind of infection, which didn't allow him to show his maximum. Sending him for training at Gazprom-Rusvelo, we expected that he would gain a foothold there. After all, the track championships of Belarus and Europe showed that races of a higher class, regardless of what role played there and whether he made the finish or not, gave Zhenya a lot. But since the Russian team didn't promise to put him in optimal shape for the Olympics, after consulting was decided that one more season, taking into account the upcoming Olympics, it would be better for him to spend in Minsk Cycling Club.

The plus of the past road season is a conjoint with Mozyr launch of a junior project under a cooperation agreement, which includes training camps for four juniors, competitions, provision of equipment and outfit. Today, at the request of the regions, we plan to develop this area further. But, they want us to take their guys, but, unfortunately, they themselves do not want to participate in their preparation either organizationally or financially.

Without giving up the track

— Do juniors also get paid?

— Minimum. And this is not much money. But the riders are provided with outfits, bicycles, transport, training camps, which we can jointly finance. In fact, this is not a very grateful direction, because the club's name is "Minsk", and 70 percent of our guys are from the regions. Last season, for example, the backbone of the juniors was made up of athletes from Gomel and Mozyr, among Unders - from Brest, three of whom ended their careers. Therefore, we decided to sign contracts with promising youth for two years, so that it would not work out, as with Dzianis Mazur. I cannot say that we spent very much, nevertheless, we finance him, supported. And the one-year contract ended, and he got in a different team. Although we pinned great hopes on him on the track.

By the way, in interviews of some colleagues, lately it sounded that Minsk Cycling Club focuses on the road direction, and this was a discovery for me. Today we have eight teams - four road (male and female continental, Unders and juniors), two track (the main team, with which, probably, only Hardzei Tsishchanka of the members of the national team had no contract, and the youth team). In addition, we have launched BMX projects and, thanks to Tristyle club - triathlon project.

— Will you continue to develop the track direction?

— Yes. But today we didn't register the main team with the UCI. Because the situation has changed dramatically. So far we don't understand where the reforms affecting this direction will lead. After all, the timing of track competitions and calendars were changed. The World Cup was replaced by the Nations Cup, in which club teams will not be able to participate. Despite this, I repeat, the track direction remains with us. Raman Tsishkou, Raman Ramanau will perform for the road team "BELAZ" and for the track team "Minsk", also receiving salary under the contract with our club.

— Have you parted with Mikhail Shemetau?

— It's no secret that this is a racer with a peculiar temper. At the same time, he noticeably improved on the highway. At all Belarusian races last summer, including the national championship, he was in the top three in the individual time trial, fought with Yauheni Karaliok, and sometimes beat him. Besides, he can hold the break away for a long time. Much credit for this, I think, comes from Konstantin Sivtsov, who helps Misha to draw training programs up. In my opinion, the continental team needs him.

Postponed festival debut

— Your fight for the second Olympic license in the men's group road race, apparently, was not crowned with success?

— It was a long process. We were, if I may say so, butting heads for three months with the Union Cycliste Internationale. And we still believe that we have won two licenses. But to defend the second, it was necessary to litigate. After weighing the pros and cons, we gave up the idea. It's not that we are unlikely to win a medal in this discipline in Tokyo. This would affect the relationships with international organizations. And the UEC unanimously gave us the right to hold the European Track Championships. Even after the sanctions of the IOC against the NOC of Belarus for political reasons, the contract was signed with us. We have already paid the entry fee and are now starting the preparation for the tournament. Due to the worsening of the coronavirus pandemic, it was, however, postponed from February to June 23-27. I think this is the right decision. By that time, I hope the epidemiological situation will be normalized, and the championship will turn out to be full-fledged, with the participation of all countries.

— Initially, there was a talk about the European Cycling Festival, which will host continental championships in all disciplines - road, track, BMX, mountain bike and freestyle.

— This is another disappointment of 2020. Together with Belarusian Cycling Federation, we have organized many major events, including stages of the Track World Cup, Grand Prix Minsk road and track races. And now we have done a huge work on preparation of the united European championships, involving many of the club's employees and investing a lot of money. We were ready, among other things, to build an MTB track in Zayachaya Polyana near Logoisk. But, since we do not thoroughly know the specifics of this discipline, the equipment of the track should be carried out with the involvement of foreign specialists for the distance to meet all international requirements. Therefore, we postponed the European Championship to 2022, and the debut cycling festival to 2025. We had a long discussion with the UEC about its holding in August 2021. And we agreed that immediately after the Olympics this new and very interesting project may get lost, that it is better to thoroughly prepare it. And in 2022, if we build a BMX track in Zaslavl, we will also hold a separate European championship in this discipline. As for the place for the freestyle tournament, we have not yet decided on it. There are two good sites - an open one at the Sports Palace and a closed one at  Minsk-Arena. This is a purely commercial project. And because of the pandemic again, it is very difficult to gather sponsors from among brands that are interesting to young people. It is clear that they will leave the consent to the last moment.

Initially, within the Cycling week 2020, we also wanted to hold a freestyle show at the Sports Palace and organize the largest bicycle store in Belarus for 10 days at Palova Arena. This, too, obvious reasons, alas, was not done. Nobody knows how 2021 will turn out. For Grand Prix Minsk, we declared several dates in May just in case. We hope the race will take place. But no one will give guarantees yet.

With minimal changes

— It is clear that the pandemic has hit the economy. Did it affect the riders?

— Ours, thank God, no. From the point of view of sponsorship, we actually remained at last year's level, only slightly running at a deficit. From a commercial point of view, due to the lack of activities, it is clear that we did not receive anything. But the main thing is that we survived economically.

— Apparently, you will completely refuse from legionnaires next year? At least I didn't see Sergey Rostovtsev in the team...

— He has a contract until March 1. And still we are thinking whether to continue cooperation or not. Mostly we considered Sergey as a partner for Yauheni Karaliok in madison in six-days. But it turned out that while Minsk Cycling Club did not go anywhere, he got points with the Russian team in Turkey, which helped us too. Now he was not registered for the first races in Turkey, and then we'll see.

— Will the majority of Belarusians stay in the road team?

— Yes. With the exception of Anton Ivashkin, who had a bad last season for many reasons - there were injuries and preparation left much to be desired. He himself has not yet decided on the future - whether to stay in sports, or go into commerce. We promised, but not within the club, to support him - neither the bike nor the equipment was taken away. But, if you continue to race, you have to show the result.

At the moment, contracts have been signed with Vasili Bialiauski, Yauheni Karaliok, Siarhei Papok, Branislau Samoilau, Yauhen Sobal, Vasili Strokau, Aliaksei Shnyrko, Ivan Charniauski, Siarhei Shauchenka, as well as Aliaksandr Piasetski, who raced in Spain for several years. At the training camp in Turkey are now also Stanislau Bazhkou, Nikolai Shumov, Uladzimir Harakhavik and Mikhail Shemetau, with whom we agreed that we will continue cooperation if they show the necessary results.

— Have you worked at the calendar for the season?

— It is identical to last year's. The situation is not clear only with regard to participation in the women's Giro Rosa and Giro d'Italia for Unders. Since we have two teams with which Aliaksandr Kuchynski and Yauheni Hutarovich work, they registered for the maximum number of races, including the first category. And for now they are ready to receive us everywhere. And how the situation will develop further, no one knows. At the moment, only the Antalya Tour and all Chinese starts have been canceled.

— Have you lost your Asian sponsors in this regard?

— No. They still provide us with outfit, wheels and frames. But their support is incomparable with that of the Belarusian partners.

To defend jerseys

— For the women's team, you were going to improve the conditions somewhat...

— And we did it. And in the future we will support them financially. We pin our main hopes on Tatsiana Sharakova, who, we hope, will recover from the coronavirus and will also her show her best, and Hanna Tserakh. We focus them, first of all, on a successful performance at the Olympics and the home European Track Championship. Task number two is to win the National champion jersey. And try to get into strong international races, including Giro, if they, of course, take place and we manage to get visas. Unfortunately, the organizers do not help with this.

— And at what stage is the implementation of the idea of a women's World Tour team creation?

— For now, we abandoned it. If the girls performed at the Giro, we would understand their condition, whether they are ready for the top division. Still, first we need to attract the attention, and good races held in China are not enough for this. Indeed, in the World Tour, financial conditions and security are much more serious. And the composition of the riders must be appropriate.

— What goals do you set for men?

— For the road racers - real from the point of view of the rating position. The fact is that we have in our team a 39-year-old Yauhen Sobal, whom both our club and the Republican Center for Olympic Trainin are ready to hire as a coach. Together with Natalia Tsilinskaya, Belarusian Cycling Federation president, and Dmitry Tolkachev, the director of the Republican Center for Olympic Training, we talked a lot with him. But Zhenya, as it turned out, wants to get to the Olympics, promising that he will be ready no worse than Aliaksandr Riabushenka, and asked to leave the question open until the national championship.

— Where the whole Minsk Cycling Club will work for him, when only a couple of people will work for Riabushenka?

— In 2020, Sasha did not fight alone. Like Sobal, 12 people also helped him. That's not the point. Riabushenka is younger, he has a stronger calendar, and the Japanese track suits him. But! God forbid, he will be injured the day before. And who will perform then? We need a spare rider. That is, the first task is to prepare for the Olympics the main our track hope - Yauheni Karaliok and the spare rider for the road. The second is to defend the National champion jersey in the conditions of the appearance of three continental teams. It will be especially difficult to do for Unders in the individual time trial, as hardly anyone will be able to fight with Mazur, who won the title, and now transferred to BELAZ team.

— The appearance of another club, in theory, should boost internal competition…

— In fact, at the moment only Minsk Cycling Club continental men and women teams are officially registered. And BELAZ and men and women teams of Ferei, which also applied for registration, have not yet received UCI licenses. Most likely, this will happen in the coming days. That is, in 2021, we can have five continental teams. And the question is more about their quality. The competition will definitely intensify.

— Can't help but ask about the fate of the Cycling Carnival?

— It was planned for May, but, perhaps, we will postpone it to June and combine with the European Championship. I think this is logical. Or we will tie it to the Grand Prix Minsk road race. We perfectly understand that everyone missed such events, so we will try to make it a bright holiday.

- So was 2020 positive or negative?

- Of course, positive.


Elena DANILCHENKO (Sports Panorama)