Russian rider Pavel Tonkov (Team LPR) has announced his retirement. In a statement on his website, the 37-year-old said he had been thinking of retiring for the last three years, and now the time had come.
"I had a long life on the bicycle, a long and beautiful career," said Tonkov. "I am very satisfied and I thank cycling for all that it has given me. Now, I must leave my place to make way for younger riders who are coming up."
Saturday's Giro di Lombardia was therefore Tonkov's last day in the professional peloton, but he is not intending to leave cycling. "I am saying 'au revoir' but not 'adieu'," he said.
"I am ending my job as a racing cyclist," said Tonkov, "but not [my involvement in] the sport. I am always looking to the future and I still see my future in cycling." Tonkov added that he intended to remain involved with his team and pass on the experience he had gained in a long career as a cyclist.
Born in 1969 in Ishevsk, Russia, Tonkov was a very successful amateur with 110 victories including the 1988 Hessen Rundfahrt, the 1989 Tour of Czechoslovakia and the 1991 Tour of Chile. He turned professional in 1992 for the RUSS-Baikal and Lampre-Colnago teams, winning best young rider in the Giro d'Italia that year. He went on to ride for a variety of teams, mostly in Italy including various incarnations of the Lampre and Mapei squads and, in 2001, the ill-starred Mercury-Viatel team.
High points of Tonkov's 17-year professional career include overall victory in the 1996 Giro d'Italia, 1995 Tour of Switzerland and 1997 Tour de Romandie. He also took stage wins in the Giro, Tour of Switzerland, Tour du Midi Libre, Tour de Romandie, and Vuelta a Espana.
In 2004, riding for Vini Caldirola, he proved he still had what it takes when he won a stage of the Giro d'Italia, gesturing aggressively as he crossed the line. "It was only a gesture of rage against the journalists, that did not consider a protagonist in the Giro any more," he said. His last professional win was a stage of the Clásica Internacional Alcobendas in May of this year.
Tonkov took time in his announcement of his retirement to thank the fans who stand by the roadside to cheer on the racers. "if the supporters did not exist, this sport would not work," he said. "In races, I always thought about all these people that waited for us for hours, under the sun and rain, and I thought, 'the poor things'. The greatest thing about this sport of cycling is the passion that fills the racers and the fans."
Tonkov concluded with some advice to young racers. He said that young racers had told him that the had kindled their interest in cycling and that if had caused youngsters to find a vocation in cycling, "my career would have succeeded beyond my wildest hopes." Young riders, he said, should "be patient, learn, listen to their parents and the director of their club, to consider him as a teacher."