Boris Shpilevski believed his chance of joining the big league had passed when he had a difficult year with Fuji-Servetto in 2009, but the points he collected through his results on the Asia Tour with Iranian team Tabriz Petrochemical have earned him a contract with AG2R-La Mondiale.
The French team's poor season forced manager Vincent Lavenu to recruit Asia Tour's performers Shpilevski, Iran's Amir Zargari from Azad University and Slovenia's Grega Gazvoda from Perutnina Ptuj in order to keep the team's position in the World Tour. Now ranked sixteenth by the UCI, they're very likely to receive one of the last three tickets to the top tier that are up for grab.
"My first Asian experience was the 2008 Tour of Hainan with [Italian outfit] Preti Mangimi," Shpilevski told Cyclingnews in Wuxi on the start line of stage 1 at the Tour of Taihu, only three hours prior to scoring his seventh international victory this year. "From the beginning, I've loved these races. That's what I like with cycling: this sport gives us opportunities to discover something new.
"To ride for a French team will also be new to me next year. I've spent five years in Italy before joining [Iranian team] Tabriz Petrochemical. Most of the European riders look down at Asian cycling but they should come and see how fast these races go from start to finish. Look at this Tour of Taihu: it's very well organised and the crowd is big although it's only the second edition and it's a stage race for the first time."
Rather than buying the Asia Tour points scored by riders unknown in Europe, some team managers like Lavenu are considering racing more in Asia and scoring the points themselves in the future. "I'll begin my 2012 season with the Santos Tour Down Under but I wouldn't mind coming back to Asian races with AG2R," Shpilevski said. "I don't know yet what my race program will be but I've told my new team that I would like to do Paris-Roubaix and the Tro Bro Leon. I believe that cobblestones will suit me as much as the dirt roads."
Shpilevski signed his contract via the Internet two weeks ago in order to meet the deadline of October 20 for the World Tour qualification. He was recommended to Lavenu by his compatriot Vladimir Efimkin, who won stage 9 in the 2008 Tour de France for AG2R (after the disqualification of Riccardo Ricco for doping).
"I also questioned Jan Kirsipuu and he said that Shpilevski is able to perform in Europe as well," Lavenu told Cyclingnews. Kirsipuu, who now races for Hong-Kong based team Champion System at the age of 42 ,witnessed some of Shpilevski's impressive sprints in Asia. The Russian won four stages at this year Tour of China.
"It hasn't been easy to travel from Moscow to Asia for seven stage races and two training camps in Iran this year, but I've had a good season," said Shpilevski.
The 29-year-old from Friasino (30km away from the Russian capital) is a father of two, and his son Anton is already ten years old, so he has to go to school and won't move to Chambéry, France, which is Shpilevski's next destination as a cycling adventurer. "I'm very happy to have this opportunity to join such a big team while too many riders are out of contract," underlined Shpilevski. "I want to start strongly in Australia and stay with AG2R for more than one year."