By Brecht Decaluwé
Team Astana director sportif Viatcheslav Ekimov has tons of experience and knows the area of the E3 Prijs Harelbeke well – something that proves useful in guiding his riders.
"I lived for seven years in Belgium, near Gent, in Evergem," Ekimov said. The 42 year-old Russian is still riding the bike these days. "I did the reconnaissance for this race with the guys, but I've had my time on the bike."
That said, a Mario Cipollini-like return to competition is not something expected from Ekimov. Referring to the Italian's brief return to racing in 2008, the Russian said, "He had a couple of good races, but what did he do? At 42, I think it's better to do a job according to your age."
"We want to take home a big win this month," 'Eki' said to Cyclingnews before the start of the E3 Prijs Harelbeke, a race he almost won back in 1994. "I'm surprised it is so long ago. I remember it was Tchmil who bridged up with me in the final kilometre. He then went on the win Paris-Roubaix, so it wasn't a shame to lose to him," Ekimov smiled.
When asked whether a stage win in the upcoming Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde was considered as a big win, Ekimov hesitated. "The overall victory would be great, but we're focusing more on the one-day races."
"Taking home Flanders would be fantastic," Ekimov considered a victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen as highlight of this part of the season. "Last year Tom [Tomas Vaitkus] could have been on the podium, but he finished fourth. Gusev is coming, but after suffering a broken collarbone so we don't count on him. We've got three team leaders: Tomas Vaitkus for the sprints, and Gregory Rast and Sergey Ivanov for the smaller breakaway groups."
After the E3 Prijs Harelbeke Ekimov can now add another name to his list. Michael Schär made the breakaway of the day. The young Swiss racer only got dropped on the Knokteberg, with 26km to go. The tall 21 year-old sprinted to an eleventh place in Tom Boonen's group.