Djamolidine Abdoujaparov was one of the most feared sprinters in the peloton during the early to mid-90s, not least for his erratic style in sight of the line. Procycling's Daniel Friebe tries to find out what "The Tashkent Terror" is doing now, but discovers it's not that easy.
Georges Matthys, race founder, organiser – Mr. Gent-Wevelgem himself – once said much the same thing about the young Bernard Hinault. Now, though, there was more disbelief, more outrage in the way he spat those five syllables like bitter pills he didn't want to swallow. "Ab-dou-ja-pa-rov?! Ab-dou-ja-par-ov?! He's not a worthy winner of my race. Who's ever heard of Ab-dou-ja-pa-rov?"
Had Matthys been paying attention, he'd have known that plenty of people were familiar with the short, unfeasibly muscular and murderous-looking sprinter from Tashkent, in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, who had just ennobled his race with his first major pro victory.
OK, pronouncing his name was an exploit in itself, but had the aficionados not already had plenty of practice? A quick glance at Abdoujaparov's palmarès in the years before the Berlin Wall fell (and, with it, restrictions on Soviet riders turning pro) revealed they had: there were stages in the Peace Race, the Settimana Bergamasca, the Tour de l'Avenir and the Baby Giro; a Russian road race title; a near-miss in the 1988 World Championships...
Somehow, though, for Georges Matthys, that dark, joyless face still didn't fit.
He shook his head one more time. "Ab-dou-ja-pa-rov?!"
Silence. Nothing. One second, two seconds, three sec...
The intercom crackles into life.
"Who is it?"
"I'm a cycling journalist from an English magazine. I'm looking for Djamolidine, your brother. Is he here?"
Another pause. We check for jerking net curtains and silhouettes in the large ground-floor windows. Nothing.
Then, finally, another crackle.
"He's not here. He's away. I don't know when he'll be back. What do you want...?"
"We want to know if we can speak to your brother. Or even to you. We just want to know what he's doing now..."
"I can't come out. I have a one-year-old child. Anyway, he has his life, I have mine. You'll have to speak to him."
"OK, but can you just tell us what he's doing now. For a job, I mean. We've heard all sorts of things – that he breeds pigeons, that he trains juniors back in Uzbekistan or Russia..."
"He breeds pigeons, but that's a hobby. He looks after young riders. But you have to ask him: I told you, he lives next door and he has his own life. I'm sorry. Arrivederci."
Crackle, crackle, clunk. And then silence.
You know this isn't going to be your average assignment when it begins with a call to Evgeni Berzin and he tells you that he's just come back from a training ride with Frank Vandenbroucke. Berzin was the enfant prodigy turned enfant terrible of the early 90s, a mantle he passed on to VDB in the late 90s, and – wouldn't you just know it – in recent years this terrible twosome have become mates and sometime training partners on the plains south of Milan where Berzin now owns three car dealerships.
Continue to the full feature.