By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide, Australia
He hasn't had spectacular results yet, but the pedalling style of AG2R La Mondiale's Alexandre Pliushin hasn't gone unnoticed by the other riders of the Tour Down Under. The 22-year-old Moldavian looks at his ease and shows a lot of promise for the future.
Last year, he was supposed to begin his professional career at the Tour de Langkawi, but a broken collarbone delayed his start and he was also sick for the following three months. Moldova might not be a real force in the world of cycling, but the compatriot Ruslan Ivanov won the Malaysian race.
AG2R La Mondiale is known for its open door policy toward cyclists from Eastern Europe ever since it signed Estonia's Jan Kirsipuu and Kazakhstan's Alexander Vinokourov in the 1990s. Nowadays young Kazakhs are linked to Astana; Russia has created Katusha for its up and coming talents; Ukraine has a lot of hopes with the new Italy-based ISD team; but it doesn't mean French team is left with no request from Russian-speaking cyclists.
Pliushin won the U23 Tour of Flanders in 2007 under the AG2R La Mondiale's feeder team Chambéry CF. Last year he took part in the Beijing Olympics as a track pursuiter.
"He's very versatile and it's hard to say what kind of rider he is for the future," team manager Vincent Lavenu said. "I'd rather see myself as a time trialist," Pliushin said at the start of stage four of the Tour Down Under.
Last year he came 10th at the Ster Elektrotoer in the Netherlands. "When a rider like him has showed exceptional capacities in the young categories, we expect a quick confirmation in the pro ranks," Lavenu said. "He's serious, determined and committed. He's very careful about what he eats and how he trains.
"Here in Australia, he's already in the right rhythm. We can't compare with 'Vino' though because he didn't turn pro at the same age." Vinokourov had already passed his 24th birthday when he started his professional career with Casino-Ag2r at the 1998 Etoile de Bessèges. "The first day, he kept attacking. Every time he saw the shadow of another rider next to him, he attacked again and again. In the evening on the massage table he wondered optimistically if he could win the stage the next day."
Pliushin might be more stylish and less aggressive than Vinokourov for now, but he can be considered as a possible successor. He wears the colours of his country after winning the national championship contested by about fifty riders last year when the minister for sport was still Andrei Tchmil.
Now the former winner of many Classics has resigned to take the post of financial manager of the new Katusha team. "Tchmil is a good friend of mine and he gave me some advice as well, but he realised I have a mentor already in the person of Daniel Gisiger, so he doesn't interfere in my career," Pliushin said.
The young Moldavian also stated that Gisiger, a former Swiss professional, is not his coach as he plans his training by himself.