Russia’s Alexander Kolobnev has announced his retirement at the age of 35 in a message on his personal website, where he admits ending his career is a painful moment in his life.
The Gazprom-Rusvelo team revealed its roster before the holidays and Kolobnev was no longer part of the team. A professional since 2002, he only won four races but finished second twice in the road race at the World Championships and was second in the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He was also Russian national champion on two occasions.
“If you want to have the extra energy to sprint for the finish line, you should train hard, tirelessly, and for a long time, and be focused on the target. It is easy to achieve that at the beginning of your career, but when you are a professional cyclist for more than 16 years the target often runs off," he wrote, adding: "This is the moment.
“Oleg Tinkov said to me recently in a chance meeting: 'It’s time to prepare yourself for real life, and the sooner you realise it, the more manageable the transition will be'.
“The feeling that you will just be replaced by younger riders could be similar to the feeling that a woman has when she realises she is not as young and attractive as before when she sees young and beautiful ladies passing by. The rupture with sports is comparable with the split from a special person.”
Highs and lows of a long career
Kolobnev moved to Italy as a junior and turned professional with the Acqua & Sapone team in 2002. He moved to Rabobank and then CSC, where he enjoyed the most successful period of his career, before riding for Katusha in 2010. He joined Gazprom in 2016, with the Abu Dhabi Tour the final race of his career in late October.
Kolobnev was known for his ability in hilly Classics and aggressive breakaways. He finished second behind Paolo Bettini in the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart and then finished second again behind lone winner Cadel Evans in Mendrisio in 2009.
He also made the headlines for other reasons, with serious allegations that he accepted a payment from Alexandre Vinokourov to allow the Kazakhstani rider to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2010.
Swiss L'Illustre magazine accused Vinokourov of paying Kolobnev €100,000 to let him win the race and later published emails between the two that appeared to indicate an agreement between them. The evidence emerged after details of payments were revealed by the Italian police investigation into Dr. Michele Ferrari. Both Vinokourov and Kolobnev were clients of the infamous Italian sports doctor who was eventually banned for live for his involvement in Lance Armstrong’s doping programme. A penal investigation in Belgium was opened but both strongly denied the accusations.
Kolobnev also tested positive at the 2011 Tour de France for the masking agent hydrochlorothiazide but was acquitted of systematic doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which found it was the result of medication used for a vascular disease that he had suffered from for many years.
In his farewell message, Kolobnev admitted that cycling saved him from the risk of social drug use at home.
“There was a transition with high hopes, falls and rises. I became stronger personally because of the difficulties in cycling,” he said. “First I had to adapt to changes in my private life and then to those that took place in cycling, and it is constantly evolving. Injuries from falls and improperly distributed exercises become more frequent and more severe and, moreover, the rehabilitation periods, the recovery from torn ligaments and muscles became longer.
“All sportsmen go through a difficult career ending. All of them. The decision is inevitable. It is a torture somehow. Anyone who says that it is a normal process which is painless - you change your life and become devoted, for example, only to the family - is insincere.”
Kolobnev did not reveal his plans for the future but hinted he does have plans in place, referring to a 'new project'
"I remember the words of Jens Voight, who finished his career a few years ago. He said: ‘Midlife crisis? I do not have time for it.’
"I’m glad I'm finishing my career with lots of energy. Summing up all the emotions and sensations, I can say that leaving professional sport, I feel a great desire for self-realisation in my casual life, where I will use my experience and practical knowledge.”
Kolobnev posted a highlights montage of his career on Instagram.