After an injury-hit start to his debut WorldTour season, Pavel Sivakov is finding his feet at Team Sky. The 20-year-old was forced to delay his start to racing this year due to a knee-related injury, but he quickly produced results with fourth overall at Coppi e Bartali in March, where he was also part of Sky’s winning team time trial effort.
A rather more humbling performance followed at the Tour of the Basque Country, but the neo-pro has been on the front foot already this week at the Tour de Romandie. On stage 1, he marked a late move from Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) on the final climb, before eventually finishing just a minute down on the leaders.
"I had a difficult winter, with an ITB [iliotibial band – ed.] injury but I managed to start my preparation in early January. That moved things on a bit, so I don’t have a lot of racing days in my legs. I’m still enjoying things, and I’m learning from the guys, but this is a big step up from the U23 ranks," Sivakov told Cyclingnews in Delemont at the Tour de Romandie.
Although just 20, Sivakov speaks several languages. Born in Italy, he has spent 19 years living in France, while both of his Russian parents were pro riders. His father Alexei Sivakov rode the Tour de France three times with BigMat, while his mother Aleksandra Koliaseva finished second in the women’s Giro and won the Tour de l’Aude.
His language skills have certainly helped him settle at Team Sky, although there have been a few small off-the-bike steps to overcome.
"Coppi e Bartali was my first ever race with a radio, so I’m still learning. I’d never used a radio in a race before that, and it was a new experience. I had to look at the guys on the bus just to see how I needed to wear it but was pretty easy in the end," Sivakov said.
"Originally I was going to start racing in Mallorca and that would have been nice to start, but I did Coppi e Bartali and ended up fourth overall. We did a really nice job there and I’ve got some form. The form wasn’t as good at Pais Vasco though because the level was higher and for races like that you need to be at 100 per cent. That was a hard moment for me."
Although fellow Team Sky recruit, Egan Bernal, has drawn most of the media attention this year due to his impressive start to the season, Sivakov remains a major talent to scout during his debut season at Sky. His 2017 campaign saw him win the Baby Giro, Giro della Valle d'Aosta, Ronde de l'Isard, and a stage at the Tour de l'Avenir – which was won by Bernal.
Both riders are racing the Tour de Romandie, and although Bernal has been afforded the position of a protected rider, Sivakov is patient with regards to his own development.
"I’m here to help Geraint Thomas for GC and also Egan Bernal. The uphill TT really suits them both. I’d like to test myself there for sure, but I’m not at that level yet. I’m here to really learn and support. Cleary Egan is a few steps ahead of me. He’s had pro seasons with Androni and we have a good relationship. He’s already one of the leaders and I’m here to support him. I completely understand that I need a few more seasons to get to that level."
Time is certainly on Sivakov’s side when it comes to the WorldTour, and it’s the same situation with regards to his racing nationality. He applied for French citizenship last year and now holds both Russian and French passports.
"I have both nationalities now. I got my French passport last September but in terms of sporting nationality, I’m not changing at the moment," Sivakov said. "I’ve got more opportunities with the Russian team. This year if I ride well I could go to the Worlds and get more experience. The French national team is crowded with riders. I’ve raced in France and lived there, so it would be easier to get to the nationals but for now, there’s no change. I have three years to decide. For the moment I’ll stay Russian. I feel both. At home, I speak Russian with my family but it’s tricky. I’m in between."