By Jean-François Quénet in Morzine
When Russian Yuriy Trofimov crossed the line first on stage five of the Dauphiné Libéré, there were plenty of fans scratching their heads and asking, "who?" - but for those who have been paying attention, the first year professional for Bouygues Telecom has been turning in some impressive performances.
The 24-year-old began his season by storming to a stage win in the Etoile de Bessèges, the 57 seconds he put into the field held up to give him the overall win as well. He then went on to place 14th in La Flèche Wallonne. But his solo exploit en route to Morzine recalled the days when Alexander Vinokourov won the overall classification of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in his second year pro back in 1999 with Casino.
A former U-23 champion in mountain biking, the Bouygues Telecom rider didn't expect to collect such a result on the road so quickly in his career. "This victory is a big surprise for me," Trofimov explained on the finishing line. He had to respond to reporters' questions via a phone conversation with a translator based in Bordeaux since he doesn't speak any other language than Russian, and nobody in Morzine seemed to be able to assist. "It's hard for me to realize what I've done."
"At the beginning of the stage, I didn't think I could win it," he added. "It was only at the end that I had an opportunity to do it. As I was first at the top of Joux-Plane before going down to Morzine, I became confident because my mountain-biking skills made me good at going downhill."
Trofimov still races as mountain-biker. After the Classics, he quit the Bouygues Telecom team for a month in order to take part in two World Cup races for MTB, where he secured a spot in the Russian team for the Olympics in Beijing. He might do the Tour de France as well. "But it's not up to me to choose," he said.
The staff of the French squad is seriously considering lining up in Brest on July 5 their Russian recruit who joined from the Moscow Stars continental team that was formed on the foundation of the Dynamo Moscow. He's a rookie at the ProTour level but not a totally true neo-pro as he had some racing experience in category 1 races in France before.
In 2005, at the age of 21, he took third in the Tour du Finistère behind Simon Gerrans and David Moncoutié. Also in the west of France, he was second in the Classic Loire-Atlantique behind Nicolas Jalabert, and got him noticed by the local organization managed by Jean-René Bernaudeau who had already attracted a Russian rider from Moscow Stars, Evgeny Sokolov, in his feeder team of Vendée U.
Now both Sokolov and Trofimov ride for Bouygues Telecom. They share an apartment in Le Poiré-sur-Vie in Vendée and regularly train with Thomas Voeckler who is almost a neighbor. In Morzine, the former yellow jersey of the Tour de France described Trofimov as "a very kind person." "The only problem is that the Russians don't speak much French but at the same time, if I had to learn Russian in three months, I'm not sure about what the result would have been."
"Many teams must envy us to have recruited him," added Voeckler about Trofimov whose only problem seems to be a fragile knee that forced him to pull out of Paris-Nice. But he doesn't want to hear about that. "Now my ambition is to make a top 10 overall in the Dauphiné," Trofimov said. And there is more to be seen from him in the future.