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You'll have to excuse 2013 Cascade Cycling Classic winner and Tour of Alberta stage 2 most aggressive rider Serghei Tvetcov if he sometimes feels like he's won the lottery; the 25-year-old from Moldova actually has.
Tvetocv, who signed with Jelly Belly for 2013 and 2014 after one year with Team Exergy, was an aspiring cyclist plying the East European Continental circuit when he signed up for the Green Card lottery that would allow him to immigrate to the US. Now the Georgia resident is a top rider on the US circuit and has been proving himself against WorldTour competition.
"They give probably like 50,000 visas for the whole world, probably," said Tvetcov, who won the lottery on his first try. "And for the first try that was really impressive to other people who tried maybe 10 or 15 years. I'm not even thinking about it. They were like, 'Congratulations, you won the green card.' I didn't even realize what it would mean."
It meant that Tvetcov, whose only impressions of the US were formed by the images of New York and Hollywood that he had seen on television and in movies, would be packing his bags and heading across the Atlantic to give life and racing in America a try. It took less than a year for Tvetcov to break into the domestic scene.
The two-time Moldovan national time trial champion started his racing career with the Moldovan national program at just 14. In 2008, he rode with the Olimpic Autoconstruct team from Romania. He moved to the Romanian Continental team Tusnad Cycling for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
After winning the visa lottery and moving to the US in 2011, he found a spot on an Indiana-based regional team called AeroCat Cycling. His results that year grabbed the attention of Jelly Belly manager Danny Van Haute, but Tvetcov signed with Exergy for 2012. When that team imploded following that season, Van Haute swooped in and scooped up the Moldovan strongman for 2013.
A successful 2013 domestic season saw him win the overall at Cascade, take second during stage 2 in Alberta and finish 12th in the Vail time trial at the USA Pro Challenge. Tvetcov also fought his way into breakaways at the UCI races in Utah and Colorado.
The aggressive riding earned his best result to date late last season in Canada when he escaped the bunch with BMC's Silvan Dillier during the second stage of the UCI 2.1 race in Alberta. Tvetcov and Dillier, a stagiaire who signed a 2014 contract with BMC after the race, broke away 94km into the 175km stage from Devon to Red Deer and time trialed to a five-minute gap before race leader Peter Sagan's Cannondale team started to chase in earnest.
"I saw a good moment to attack after the second sprint," Dillier said after the stage. "And when I saw [Tvetcov], he's a really strong rider, and so we went really fast and I knew then that we had a chance to go to the end."
Cannondale got help from Argos-Shimano and pulled the gap down to within a minute by the time the leaders hit the first of four finishing circuits in Red Deer. Sagan's team pulled off the front as the other sprinters' teams picked up the chase, but they timed it too late as the duo stayed away all the way to the line, where Diller beat Tvetcov for the stage win. Dillier got the white cowboy hat that went to the stage winner, while Tvetcov got the blue jersey as the day's most aggressive.
The two relatively unknown young riders with big engines and time trial skills held off some of the most experience riders in the world and stole their glory.
"It really came together perfectly," said BMC director Jackson Stewart. "[Tvetcov] really worked well with [Dillier] and was really strong in Utah, so we knew it was two really strong guys and it would just come down to the circuit if they could make it. Dillier is strong and Tvetcov is strong, so it was a potent combination."
Tvetocv said it was the result came from a combination of experience, good form and good luck.
"That's probably a good recipe to get the best results," he said.
Tvetocv concluded his season representing Moldova at the UCI Time Trial World Championship, where he finished mid-pack in 31st, 4:47 off of Tony Martin's winning time. Tvetcov said he relished the experience and hopes to return this year better prepared for the lengthy effort.
"Before, my longest time trial was probably 25 or 28km, like Cascade," he said. "So there it was 58, but I was happy with the result. So next year I will go back with more experience and more practice on the course. That might help me get closer. Not close like Tony Martin, but maybe 30 seconds or 40 seconds."
Performing well at The Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge are also on his list of top objectives.
"For the big races I'm looking at maybe a stage," he said. "Of course, the same breakaways, like it was a good experience in Alberta when the breakaway stayed away. And, of course, time trials. I'd like to get better in time trials this year. There's a pretty good time trial in Tour of California, and Vail is pretty good, too. If I was a little bit smarter last year, maybe I would have gotten a better result. Because I was two days away in the breakaway before the time trial. But still I was happy with the result. Twelfth place is not bad."
The Moldovan's ultimate goal, however, is to earn a spot on a top team that competes on the European circuit, although at 25 he realizes time may not be on his side. But Tvetcov said he believes there are smart directors out there who realize sometimes with age comes a stronger metal attitude. He hopes there's still room at the top for late bloomers.
"Some flowers open really early," he said. "But some are later."