Jelly Belly-Maxxis rider Serghei Tvetcov, who is currently third overall at the USA Pro Challenge as the race heads toward its conclusion Sunday in Denver, is among the biggest revelations of the week. The 25-year-old has been earning results consistently over the past two years with his US Continental team, but his performance this week in Colorado has taken him to another level.
"I'm glad to be with those guys," Tvetcov told Cyclingnews after Saturday's time trial in Vail, where he finished third behind race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and runner-up Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) and now shares the overall podium with them.
"You work hard and train hard, eat well and sleep well, and after that it pays off," he said "But this is even better. It's not a surprise, but I'm really glad to have that successful preparation and be with those guys."
So far this week in Colorado, Tvetcov has finished outside the top 10 only once. He finished 13th during the stage 1 circuit race in Aspen, but he didn't lose anytime to his general classification rivals. Since then, he came in ninth during the epic and confusing rain-drenched stage into Crested Butte; third on the summit finish on Monarch Mountain; third again during the field sprint at the end of the circuit race in Colorado Springs; fifth on the stage from Woodland Park to Breckenridge; and third again in Vail.
Tvetcov said it's not improved fitness or form that explains his podium performance in Colorado, rather, he says, it's his improved tactics and more focused ambitions that have driven his rise.
"In years before, like 2012, every team comes here, especially the domestic teams, to be in the breakaway, be aggressive and get the TV time," he said. "But you actually waste your energy. But in 2013 I had another experience, just pick out some stages to be in the breakaway, but I got a good result in the time trial here last year. I was 12th place, and I thought maybe I should try to be a little bit not so aggressive, just stay with the big guys and see what happens."
The results are obvious, and Tvetcov has earned some fans among his WorldTour rivals.
"I've seen him put in some really good rides," van Garderen said Saturday in Vail. "He's a two-time national time trial champion, so I was thinking it was just a matter of time before he had a break-through ride. We were looking at the results sheet, and we kept saying there's all the obvious guys like Danielson, [Rafal] Majka, but his name kept popping up like maybe we should keep an eye on him. So, no, I'm not really surprised."
Danielson said he's been keeping an eye on Tvetcov since the Jelly Belly rider was competing with Team Exergy in 2012.
"I think my first experience with Serghei was 2012 on the Durango to Telluride stage when we were throwing bombs out left, right and center," Danielson said. "And there was this Exergy guy there going pull for pull over to Telluride. And I was like, 'Who are you man? When are you going to blow?'
"He's a really nice guy, and ever since I've been following him," Danielson continued. "I saw this year that he won the Cascade criterium on top of the time trial and all this other stuff, and I thought, 'Uh oh.' Then I saw him up there the last couple days and I thought, 'This is going to be trouble.'"
The two-time Moldovan national time trial champion, who switched his citizenship to Romania this year, 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 in the offseason, Van Haute swooped in and scooped up the Moldovan strongman.
A successful 2013 domestic season saw him win the overall at the Cascade Cycling Classic, take second during stage 2 of the Tour of Alberta and finish 12th in the Vail time trial in Colorado. Tvetcov also fought his way into breakaways at the major US UCI races.
He returned with Jelly Belly this year and continued to pile up the results. He won the time trial at the Tour of the Gila and finished 12th during the Folsom time trial at the Tour of California. Tvetcov crashed hard during stage 1 of the Tour de Beauce in June, but he hung on to finish third overall in the Canadian UCI 2.2 race.
Tvetcov won the overall at Cascade again this July on the strength of two stage wins in the time trial and criterium. He grabbed three top-10 finishes in Utah earlier this month and came into Colorado looking for a top result.
"At the Tour of Utah I just tried to stay with the big guys," Tvetcov said. "I was in the main group, but the mountains there were too steep for me. I just was dropped, but I was dropped from a select group of 15. So I thought, 'Alright, Colorado will be better for me.'"
He was right, of course, and now he's increased his chances to fulfill the dream of taking his career to the next level, where he would be ready and willing to start working his way back to the top.
"On a domestic team, of course, I think for GC," he said. "But on a bigger team I would be more like help for some of the bigger guys, and maybe in a couple of years will come my time for GC."
Asked if he's had any interest from WorldTour or Pro Continental teams, Tvetcov was a bit coy.
"I hope so," he said. "Actually I haven't spoken with my agent, but I hope so."