Legendary Estonian makes Philadelphia debut at 41
Estonia's Jaan Kirsipuu is in the midst of a whirlwind trip to the United States as part of the Hong Kong-based UCI Continental Champion System squad, racing first on Thursday in Basking Ridge, New Jersey at the Base Camp International p/b Verizon Wireless criterium and concluding with the 250km TD Bank International Championship on Sunday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"Champion System's American office just asked me to come for these two races. I didn't have more time because I raced last week in Estonia and there are some other races also coming up at home [in Estonia]," Kirsipuu told Cyclingnews on Saturday from his hotel in Philadelphia.
While Kirsipuu finished on the podium on Thursday behind the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling sprinting duo of Robert Förster and Hilton Clarke, he's much more pragmatic about his chances in the US's most prestigious one-day race.
"I don't have any expectations. I think this race right now is too hard for me. Even when I was in top condition this race would be quite hard for me. You have to be in really top condition to perform well here. I'm sceptical for tomorrow," he said with a laugh.
This trip to the US in not Kirsipuu's first, however.
"My first race [in the United States] was the Atlanta Olympic road race 15 years ago," he said. "Thursday [in Basking Ridge] was my second race."
Kirsipuu finished 24th in the 1996 Olympic Games road race, the first open to professionals, 2:48 behind gold medalist Pascal Richard.
There are still several professionals in the current peloton who have competed against Kirsipuu in Europe, but the ranks are ever dwindling.
"I know Förster, and Freddie Rodriguez I know also. There are probably a few other guys I know from before, but I know more sports directors now, like Frankie Andreu. That's more my generation."
In fact, looking down the results of the 1996 Olympic road race reveals four former professionals who are directing teams on Sunday in Philadelphia: Frankie Andreu (Kenda/5-hour Energy Pro Cycling presented by Geargrinder), Vassili Davidenko (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis), Steve Bauer (Team Spidertech powered by C10) and Gord Fraser (Realcyclist.com).
After racing in France as an amateur for the noted ACBB squad, Kirsipuu turned professional in 1992 for Chazal and remained in the team for 13 years through its iterations as Casino and then Ag2r Prévoyance. Kirsipuu moved to Crédit Agricole in 2005-2006 and then retired from the professional ranks, although he still competed as an amateur. In 2008 he was the manager of Latvian UCI Continental cycling team Rietumu Banka-Riga. In 2009, however, he once again entered the professional ranks, this time for Asian-based UCI Continental teams.
The Estonian sprinter has won more than 130 races in his career, highlighted by four Tour de France stage wins as well as six days in the maillot jaune during the 1999 Tour, plus a stage win in the 1998 Vuelta a Espana.
Kirsipuu's immense experience should prove invaluable to his younger teammates.
"We have two or three guys who can perform well tomorrow so I can give them advice before and maybe during the race.
"[For me] it's more traveling the world, seeing new countries is my main goal. If on the way I can perform well that's a bonus. Like tomorrow, it's not for me anymore, but I'll do my best and go as long as I can."
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