After his win at stage 3 of the Tour of CaliforniaToms Skujins (Hincapie Racing Team) sat next to Jens Voigt on the press conference dais. Skujins' audacious win from the day's breakaway was reminiscent of Voigt's aggressive racing style, and his tongue-in-cheek banter with the press and team staff after the race also had a 'Jens-shut-up-legs' feel.
Skujins commentary and racing style make him a candidate to inherit Voigt's position in the peloton.
Skujins was well-prepared for today's stage. He and his team had previewed parts of the course during a training camp. "I kind of knew the most important parts of the route. I knew that after Mt. Hamilton it was a pretty technical descent," he said. "I was mostly worried about that long drive from like 20km to go. Even in training I was like 'What the hell is this?' It just keeps going and going."
Skujins speaks flawless english. His idioms and accent sound more west coast than his native Latvian, and he said he honed his humour and language skills by watching American television.
"When I was growing up we had some english channels, and Cartoon Network was one of them," Skujins said. "A five-year-old kid staring at the TV forever and ever, picks it up real quick you know?"
Hincapie Racing Team director Tom Craven had heard of Skujins from other friends in the business. He had a few tough years racing in France but in 2013 placed fifth at the U23 World Championships. That performance did not lead to a contract. Craven gave Skujins a call to see if he would consider racing in the US.
"That was the year that all the teams failed and folded and a guy like that, he's left out in the cold. I reached out to him and just talked to him," Craven said. "His english is incredible, we had great conversations on Skype, I was like 'man, this guy is alright'. He really wanted to come over. I talked to some other people that knew him. We just hatched a plan and we said ‘Come over, and see how it is. I think we can help you as a team.'"
Skujins flew under the radar until the 2014 Tour de Beauce where he won two stages, the GC, the points classification, and best young rider titles. Those results helped to put him on the map in the US.
Skujins grew up in the Carnikava, a small town outside of Latvia's capital Riga. He started riding at 15 with his sister's boyfriend. He progressed quickly from local races to international competitions. He placed 11th at junior Worlds and then in 2011 he left to race for a series of teams in France.
Skujins has settled into the American pro cycling life well. He lives with a host family in Greenville, SC and spends the winter training in Spain.
After his win, Skujins joked about getting word to his family about his victory.
"Maybe they will hear about it in like 10 days or something. They might let the pigeons fly, the post pigeons," he laughed.