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Former prodigy Vastaranta back in action

Former teammates Jukka Vastaranta and Jussi Veikkanen, both of Finland, talk to TV reporters.

Former teammates Jukka Vastaranta and Jussi Veikkanen, both of Finland, talk to TV reporters. (Image credit: Jean-François Quénet)

Finland's YLE TV station paid a visit to Brittany in the west of France to report the return of the country's cycling prodigy Jukka Vastaranta, who is racing again with Greek continental team SP Tableware after three years of retirement due to back problems.

On the start line of the Route Adélie in Vitré on Friday, Vastaranta recalled fond cycling memories as he chatted with Finland's current best racer, Jussi Veikkanen, from Française des Jeux.

"I had stopped cycling because I had big back problems," sais Vastaranta to Cyclingnews. "I couldn't breathe anymore. During my last season with Rabobank three years ago, I was suffering, but I tried to go on for two more months with Jartazi."

A runner up at the 2002 junior World Championship in Zolder behind Frenchman Arnaud Gérard who is still Veikkanen's teammate at Française des Jeux, Vastaranta looked like the next big thing as he joined the Rabobank feeder team and was successful in the pro ranks straight away.

He won Brussels-Opwijk and the Ardense Pijl in 2003. During his two years with the Rabobank Pro Tour team in 2005 and 2006, he was third overall in the Tour of Luxembourg and won a stage at the Elektrotoer. With Jartazi in 2007, he finished eighth at the Etoile de Bessèges. He was obviously talented, but his body wasn't playing along.

"I've worked in a bike shop in Tampere since I retired from professional cycling," Vastaranta said. "I've had four hours of specific massage for my back every week since. Last year, as I got better, I raced again as a mountain biker. I still would like to see how I can go at professional races."

He hopes that SP Tableware's race program will work out for in July and August, when the team will take part in several category 1 stage races in Spain and Portugal. At the age of 26, Vastaranta is not too old for cycling, but as much as he's one of the most evident talents of the decade, what remains to be seen is how quickly he can come back to his previous level after three years off.

Vastaranta did not finish the Route Adélie de Vitré.