Maxim Belkov (Katusha) has had to wait four and a half years for his first victory as a professional, but there can be no doubt that the Russian scored a major bulls eye when he crossed the line at Firenze at the end of his 150 kilometre breakaway to win stage 9 at the Giro d'Italia.
Best known as a time trialist, given he was Russia's U23 TT champion back in 2006 and the European TT champion in 2007, Belkov said he had deliberately failed to try for a top performance on Saturday's Giro d'Italia time trial stage, in order to save his energy. Or as he put it, "Better first today than 20th yesterday."
Although he has three team time trial victories to his name as a pro, Firenze was the first time the 28-year-old from Izhevsk had raised his arms to celebrate an individual victory. "I had no idea that I was going to win," he said, "particularly in the last two kilometres where I had bad cramps and the bunch and the break was coming back fast on me" - to the point where Carlos Betancur (Ag2R), second on the stage, crossed the line just 44 seconds back.
"All I knew was that the guys behind were going all out, and I would have to do the same if I wanted to stay away."
Still, Belkov has a lot of experience when it comes to racing in Italy, given he has been living in the country for eight years. He was with respected Italian director Luca Scinto's squads as an amateur and turned pro for one of his teams, ISD-Neri, back in 2009. A year in Vancansoleil followed in 2011, the season in which he raced and completed his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, and then in 2012 he moved on to Katusha.
"It was a very difficult start to the Giro, I had stomach problems and I lost a lot of power," Belkov said. "And I certainly didn't know I would get into this break. But I figured I would save my strength in yesterday's time trial just in case it could work out, I thought it was possible. After that it was a question of taking things kilometre by kilometre and seeing how it all went."
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