By Gregor Brown
"Andrei was a major professional athlete, regarded all around the world; he has good international relationships and knows the problems of sport, and not just in theory. I have a lot of trust in him and his project." Those are the words of Vladimir Voronin, president of Moldova, describing one of cycling's great one-day racers, Andrei Tchmil.
The former pro cyclist, retired in May 2002, was recently appointed as the new minister of sport for Moldova. The country's sports program is in desperate need of direction, and the heads of state thought of Tchmil to lead the way.
Moldavian sports have found a man that triumphed in the hellish conditions of the 1994 Paris-Roubaix, foiled Erik Zabel in the 1999 Milano-Sanremo and in 2000, at 37-years-old, became the oldest rider to ever win the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
A man that has been a Soviet, Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian and Belgian, who for 12 years lived in Italy, speaks eight languages and sits at ease with members from the UCI or IOC (International Olympic Committee).
Tchmil really never stopped. The 43-year-old, 44 on January 22, briefly lived the life of a retired worker but then that changed. "My son said to me, 'how can you go on like this?' So I started to do a series of things, but I knew I did not want to work as a director sportif. I did some consultant work for a while with Chocolade Jacques but the riders would not listen to me, so I said 'ciao,'" recalled Tchmil to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Then, three years ago, I got a call from the UCI, who were opening up a cycling centre in the East and they entrusted me with the responsibilities. Now there are six of these centres in the East."
The work encompasses all sports, not only Tchmil's bread and butter, cycling. "It is up to us to handle the salaries of the staff and the calendar of the federation. There is a lot to do. ... The structures form the 1970s, we need to fix those and we are looking for private funding. One of thee first objectives is the Olympic swimming pool and gym."
His managerial skills are impressive but he also serves as a role model for the young Moldavians coming though the system. "They have to understand that to be a part of this sporting system is an honour, also for economic reasons. They are getting salaries that are more than the average worker in Moldova," continued Tchmil to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "We want our athletes to go to the Olympic Games not only to participate. When they go they have to fill goose bumps on their skin, and be ready to give 100%."
Cycling still remains in Tchmil's heart although he does not go out riding anymore, preferring to take brisk walks in the mornings. He remembers fondly his old sparring partners, "Ballerini and Museeuw, two of my biggest rivals," but he also appreciates the younger class, like Paolo Bettini. "Bettini is wonderful. His method for racing reminds me of my own. When he has an objective in his head he concentrates and then goes and wins. In 2002, I remember, he said to me, 'Andrei, you are incredible. How do you do it at 37-years-old; with the enthusiasm of a youngster?' That gave me the motivation to continue for 10 more years."
Brief palmarès: 1994 GP Ouest France, 1994 Paris-Roubaix, 1997 Paris-Tours, 1999 Milan-Sanremo, 1999 UCI World Cup, and 2000 Ronde van Vlaanderen.