Making the transition from the world-conquering outlook of a top amateur to the more restricted horizons of a neo-professional is never straightforward, and Pavel Sivakov’s task was complicated still further when his debut with Team Sky was delayed by injury at the beginning of this season.
The Russian – born in Italy and raised in France – stepped up to WorldTour level this year with high expectations after landing the Ronde de l’Isard, Giro della Valle d’Aosta and under-23 Giro d’Italia in his final year with the now defunct BMC development squad, but a knee injury ruined his winter and kept him out of racing until the Settimana Coppi e Bartali in March.
"At the start, it was a bit difficult to get used to not being up there like when I was an under 23, but you quickly accept that it’s normal. I accepted that I wasn’t there to win straightaway but to learn for a few years before getting to the highest level," Sivakov told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Guangxi.
"The year was a bit mitigated for me because I was injured over the winter and didn’t start training again until the end of January. I only started racing in March, but it went quite well after that. I managed to get some good results."
Sivakov’s stand-out result came at the Tour de Suisse in June, where he rode to 14th place overall and finished the race on an emphatic note with sixth place in the concluding time trial. He proceeded to play a key supporting role as Michal Kwiatkowski claimed overall victory at the Tour de Pologne in August, a display that secured him a berth on the Team Sky squad for the Vuelta a España later that month.
"I didn’t think it was anything serious, but the day after the Tour de Pologne, it swelled up a lot," he said. "I was off the bike for five days and had two days at the hospital, so that made it a bit complicated before the Vuelta."
Comparisons with Egan Bernal
It was inevitable that Sivakov’s debut season at WorldTour level would be compared to that of his contemporary and Team Sky teammate Egan Bernal, who won the Tour de l’Avenir last year.
Bernal was fast-tracked into Team Sky’s Tour de France team this season and recently agreed a five-year contract extension with the squad, but the 21-year-old Sivakov recognises that the Colombian – who had already spent two years at Pro Continental level with Androni-Sidermec – is simply at a more advanced stage in his development.
"Taking things in hand is the way the team goes about things, and I think that’s normal, maybe even easier to manage," he said.
"It goes a quicker, it goes a lot quicker," laughed Sivakov.
"Tactically, I don’t think it’s very different, although in the espoirs, you don’t really have teams who take control on the climb. But above all, it’s a question of level. It goes quicker."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.