Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It isn't always greener on the Other Side

Every day, I always have some moments where I sit down and just scan race results. Big European race? Of course. Asia? You betcha. Tour of Tristan da Cunha? Okay, maybe not but if I have a nervous tick, it is looking at results. I could be bored out of my mind or incredibly busy with work that should have my attention but doesn't; I just go back to scrolling through bike results.

Scanning mindlessly through Monday's Criterium du Dauphine results on my lunch break, my attention is caught by two names, Timofey Kritskiy (Katusha) and Romain Sicard (Euskaltel). If you are new to the sport, these names mean next to nothing and if you saw their results (148th and 149th) on the day, you wouldn't bat an eye. If you have followed young riders as much as I have, these names should mean something to you and Monday's results speak to how difficult and cruel cycling can be. To understand, we need to go back to the last time that these two finished together, the 6th stage of the 2009 Tour de l'Avenir.

Better days. (Photo:
On a sweltering day in the Vosges mountains, Russian wünderkind Timofey Kritskiy and Romain Sicard had broken away from the lead group that included the like of Tejay van Garderen, Darwin Atapuma and Rafel Valls among others and were on their way to the summit finish in Gérardmer. The French Basque Romain Sicard was leading the race courtesy of a breakaway (thanks to a French A and B squad) on stage 1 and had a stranglehold on the leader's jersey and he was not thinking about any gifts. The bigger, more powerful Kritskiy was staying with him over every pedal turn. Time was being put into van Garderen and co. but Sicard wasn't gifting this win, he wanted that precious stage win while resplendent in the leader's jersey. Kritskiy overhauled the Basque rider in the finishing straight and put his hand in the air in triumph. It would be be nearly two years to the day until he could experience that thrill again.

2009 Tour de l'Avenir Stage 6 Château-Salins to Gérardmer

  1. Timofey Kritskiy
  2. Romain Sicard
  3. Tejay van Garderen +22
  4. Darwin Atapuma s.t.
  5. Rafael Valls +28
  6. Daniel Teklehaimanot +36
  7. Peter Stetina s.t.
  8. Michel Kreder +42
  9. Sergej Fuchs +46
  10. Sergio Henao +49

There paths would diverge abruptly two days later. On the fast descent back into the village of Ornans in the stage 8 time trial, Timofey Kritskiy's projected career was over. Kritskiy was pushing Romain Sicard to his limit and after hearing how close he was to the French-Basque, Kritskiy hit the afterburners going into the final descent. At 80 kilometers/hour, disaster happened. On the 2nd hairpin turn, Kritskiy washed out and crashed hard, shattering his tibia and leaving the Russian on the hot tarmac. A picture from the scene can be seen here but Russian TV did a re-enactment of the ordeal and dressed up his leg for audiences...

The blood is strawberry jam, if I remember correctly
Kritskiy wouldn't walk until after the new year. Sicard won the stage 8 TT and went on to secure the overall title in dramatic fashion by just one second over Tejay van Garderen after a two minute penalty for an illegal bike swap. Sicard would reach another unprecedented height by winning the U23 World RR Championship in Mendrisio two weeks later after flying by a fading Egor Silin and Peter Kennaugh on the final climb. (Carlos Betancur eventually finished 2nd.) Sicard, thanks to his Basque roots, signed with home team Euskaltel-Euskadi while Kritskiy signed a contract with Katusha while unbeknownst the the western media he was still wheelchair bound.

2010 was a year of promise and despair.

Sicard, a hot and cold rider as a U23, showed the signs he showed in the Tour de l'Avenir in some races and went 10th in the Bayern Rundfahrt, 11th in the Dauphine (including 2nd on stage 5) and 20th in the Vuelta a Burgos.

Kritskiy didn't start riding his bike again until spring, something doctors initially thought was out of reach, and rode a grand total of...wait for it...4 races. Four. A rider that was the top of his class as a U23 just a year before rode four semi-classics in his first pro year. The long road is filled with twists.

2011 was a year of promise and despair. 

Romain Sicard showed the cold side of his talent and his 2011 was filled with bad luck and injury, finishing a grant total of two races and pulled out of five more, mainly due to muscle tendonitis which lead to a muscle imbalance. His season was an unmitigated disaster. Not helping matters, Sicard was arrested for drink-driving in November of that year.

Kritskiy started the year with a monkey still on his back. The initial tibia surgery in 2009 had seen him get a 42 cm rod in his leg and after his races in 2010, he got the rod removed. Complications arose and a false joint was created, which meant more surgery and another false start. His season was on ice until the Russian Championships in June with the Itera-Katusha feeder squad, where he finished two minutes back of Mikhail Ignatiev. Kritskiy was experiencing a renaissance, albeit one with a few ups and downs. 5th in the Czech Tour, two top 10s in the Volta ao Portugal followed by two stage wins in the Tour of Bulgaria. To top it off? A world's appearance in Copenhagen in the Elite Men's World Championship RR. He was on his way back...almost.

2012 was a year of promise and despair.

Sicard put together his 2nd whole season as an elite racer and while his results were nothing outrageous, he put together a season that only had one DNF. Sicard finished races such as Paris-Nice (39th overall), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (96th), Tour de Pologne (39th) but his season was highlighted by his inaugural Grand Tour appearance in the Vuelta a Espana, which went splendidly. Sicard rode within himself to 44th overall  and had an impressive ride on the 20th stage to Bola del Mundo, where he finished 5th on the catastrophically hard summit finish.

Kritskiy had another frustrating false start. Following some brutal weather at the Volta a Catalunya, Kritskiy pulled out and the leg injury that had plagued him since the Tour de l'Avenir was back again. Kritskiy could barely train and when he was finally able to get back to it, he got a handful of races in Belgium and the Tour of Beijing. Baby steps get frustrating when your natural talent is limited by nagging injuries. Kritskiy gained nearly 15 kilograms since his Tour de l'Avenir stage victory, which had turned him into a strong rouleur and stunted his climbing abilities he showed in the U23 ranks.

What does 2013 bring? Promise and despair.

Kritskiy is finally experiencing his first professional season without injury and having a relatively proper buildup. Halfway through 2013, Kritskiy has 37 racing days, which is nearly double of his first two "pro seasons" combined. He has yet to find his niche in pro cycling. It is so sad to see a rouleur talent like Kritskiy struggle but so heartwarming to see continuing to go after his dream and not give up. His time trial is coming along relatively well and it could be a place where the young Russian shines in the future.

Sicard is struggling through the hype of his 2009 U23 results and seemingly with every bright spot, there is a gloomy set of clouds on the horizon. Case in point being the stage 2 of the Dauphine, where he finished with Kritskiy. Sicard crashed heavily and hit his knee, which handicapped him greatly. Scheduled to make his Tour de France debut this summer, Sicard's participation has now been thrown in doubt.

It would have been hard to recognize these two guys crossing the finish line on Monday if one were to see a picture of them from 2009. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, these guys are just two of many who have experienced the rough road between the U23 ranks and the professional scene. Cycling is damn hard and quitting is a choice that could be made literally every day and after the rotten luck that these two have had, they could be applauded for not hanging up on their dreams before they got their fair shot.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article, Chris, I liked it a lot. From now on I will follow Kritskiy closer.

    Also, interesting top 10 on that 6th stage.