By Jean-François Quénet in Portimão
Apart from Alessandro Petacchi, Vladimir Gusev, Davide Rebellin and Philippe Gilbert are clearly the classics contenders who have shown during the Tour of Algarve how ready they are for their one-day goals. The Russian from Discovery Channel is probably the most silent of them when it comes to interviews but his legs do the talking.
In Portugal, he launched a few significant attacks, one of them being with 5km to go into stage 4, which was the hardest one. "I was away for only one and half kilometer," a humble Gusev explained. "There wasn't much to do against Petacchi and his team. At least I've tried. I'm happy with my condition. Now we'll see in Belgium how it goes."
Gusev will line up in the Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne before riding Tirreno-Adriatico and all the classics. Since he rode for CSC and made a top 10 in Gent-Wevelgem as a first year pro (8th in 2004), he's known for competing up front in whatever classic. It doesn't matter if they are flat or hilly, with or without cobblestones. His 2005 results say a lot about his versatility: 8th in Hamburg, 10th in the Tour of Flanders, 12th in Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours, 16th in the Tour of Lombardy, 19th in Gent-Wevelgem, 26th in Milan-Sanremo.
His most impressive ride so far was probably last year's Paris-Roubaix where he ran 3rd before being disqualified because of the famous train barrier incident. He's so strong that Italians have nicknamed him "la roccia umana", the human rock. Gusev might be silent in public and secret about his exact goals, but for whoever knows him, he is actually a very friendly companion with a lot of skills apart from cycling. He was a dancer before racing, and now sings and plays guitar under the lessons of his personal agent Raimondo Scimone.
The 24 year-old from Nijni-Novgorod, the same town as Dimitri Konyshev previously known as Gorki and forbidden to the foreigners during the Soviet regime, is also determined to make his debut in the Tour de France this year.