The Tour de Romandie continued to be a happy hunting ground for Katusha in 2015 as the team celebrated overall victory through 25-year-old Ilnur Zakarin while Simon Špilak finished second for the third straight year. Maxim Belkov delivered further success as he won both the points and mountains classification while Katusha also claimed the team classification leaving Thibaut Pinot (best young rider) as the only-non Katusha classification winner.
Zakarin started the final day 17.3km time trial in the leaders yellow jersey after placing second on the queen stage to Champex-Lac with two-time winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) just 14 seconds in arrears. An inspired ride by Zakarin saw him finish third on the stage, 13 seconds down on stage winner Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step), which included a bike swap mid way through.
"Normally I like the TT races and I have had some good results," 2013 Russian national time trial champion Zakain said. "But during the last two years, step-by-step I have tried to improve my abilities as a climber. It was a hard way to do it but I lost maybe 10kg to get more speed in the mountains. Of course when you improve in one area you lose in another, but later there is a chance to find a good balance. Now I am there, but I see a lot of things to improve. I want to continue my development as a rider."
Zakarin tested positive to the anabolic steroid methandienone in 2009 which saw him handed a two-year ban as he made his comeback to the sport in 2011 with the Itera-Katusha team. Zakarin then rode for the Pro-Continental RusVelo team for two seasons before joining Katusha his season. After debuting with the team in Argentina placing tenth overall at the Tour de San Luis, ninth overall at Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco suggested Zakarin was adjusting to WorldTour level racing but almost all fell apart when a mechanical forced a bike swap.
"The bike change was my mistake. At the top of the climb I had to slow my pace a little bit and not push so hard on the pedals to change the gear. But I pushed it too hard and the chain got stuck. But the mechanics did a perfect job and changed my bike very fast," Zakarin explained.
While aiming to continue his good start to the season at the Swiss race, Zakarin added that overall victory was wholly unexpected.
"Honestly I did not expect I could win this race. Yes, I wanted to be in form here and wanted to fight for the top five. During the race I did my best, especially yesterday and today in the time trial. I worked to get the best possible result but of course this is a big surprise for me to win here," Zakarin said. "I have not analysed the results of today's TT and I need to do that to understand what happened. All I know, I did full gas, 100%, and now I am really happy. I want to thank my team – all the guys, the management, sports directors and staff for their support and great help. My victory is a victory of the whole team."
For 2010 winner Špilak, seeing his younger teammate claim overall victory capped off a complete team performance.
"This is crazy. I am so happy. You can say 'second again in Romandie' but Ilnur deserves this. We are a team and the team result counts. When you see that Ilnur had to lose time by changing his bike and he still was able to win – he gets big respect. I am also very happy about my TT. We did recon this morning in the car and during the TT director Florencio coached me so well. Finishing better than Chris Froome is not bad, I think. Now again I am second, but I am very happy. What a team performance," added Špilak.
Zakarin and the majority of the team from Romandie will constitute Katusha's Giro d'Italia roster.
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