If you’re a regular VeloVeritas reader then you’ll know we try to buck the superlatives trend – ‘iconic’ and ‘awesome’ are words you won’t see on our pages too often.
But we have to use a superlative when we talk about today’s interview subject, the Ukraine’s Yuriy Metlushenko – ‘Legendary.’
He’s been winning bike races across the globe for a decade and a half and shows no sign of slowing down.
It was 1997 when he won the GC in the Tour de Ribas in his native Ukraine – and let’s remember that there are no easy races in Eastern Europe.
And it was 2001 when he started his pro career in Italy with Record Cucine, picking up numerous victories in another country where there aren’t too many ‘soft’ wins.
The following year saw him sign with cult Belgian team, Lanbouwkrediet where he’d stay for three seasons – announcing his arrival with a ‘bang’ in winning the Italian season opening GP degli Costa Etruschi before riding the Giro.
In 2003 there were stage wins in the Tours of Denmark and Poitou-Charentes as well as hard fought wins in Belgium in races in places like Beveren and Westrozebeke.
The Costa Etruschi fell to him again in 2004 and there were more wins in Belgium and Italy.
For 2005 he rode for the Ukraine national squad but was back with lettering on his jersey for 2006 with Miche then LPR, riding the likes of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Lombardy.
It was a change of jerseys again for 2007, riding for Polish team MapaMap with placings but no wins.
In 2008 he began a highly successful four year partnership with Amore & Vita winning the Ukraine Criterium Championship and winning in the US, Canada and China to boot.
A stage in the Coppi-Bartali stage race in Italy fell to him in 2009 and there were wins in the US, Poland and China.
There were more Polish and Chinese wins in 2010 with the Ukrainian Criterium Championship again going his way in 2011 not to mention further wins in China.
For 2012 he signed with Turkish squad Torku-Seker and was a prolific winner in places as diverse as Turkey, China, Latvia and Azerbaijan.
This season there were placings in Turkey, Algeria, China and Lithuania – but no wins until the Tour of the Taihu Lakes where he won five stages, not to mention the GC.
We opened by asking Yuriy about his excellent performance in the Chinese race:
“Everything went really well, thank God.
“The Tour of the Taihu Lakes was part of our program which began with a Ukranian stage race in the Crimea, at Feodosiya on the Black Sea; the race is part of the Ukrainian national competition, I won the last stage riding for the Ukrainian national squad.
“We then flew to the Tour of Hainan to take on the Dutch super team Belkin which included Lars Boom and Record-Man Theo Bos, who worked tirelessly for their team mate Hofland, who won overall.
“I got good top five stage placings but couldn’t get a stage win.
“After these events I went to ride the Tour of Taihu Lakes in the Torku team with my team mate and life-long friend Sergei Grechin.
“He has been helping me for the last eight years, he is a good rider too; he won the Mountains jersey in the Tour of Trakya and in one of his performances of the year, won the Tour of Azerbaijan, I think of him as my guardian angel.”
Yuriy continued by explaining that his Taihu win was anything but chance:
“Before the start of the Tour of the Taihu Lakes we were able to rest and train for three days, allowing us to plan our race and study the parcours.
“Mostly they were flat stages, with some even on motor-racing circuits – our tactics were to keep everything together for the mass sprints.
“Thank God, through solid teamwork we managed to take the leader’s jersey on the first day and hold it to the end.”
When asked why it had taken him so long to reach top form, this season, he explained:
“I trained and prepared as I have always done, indeed last season compared to this was not as good for actual wins but with loads of top five placings but only two criterium wins (including a national championship).”
And we discovered that he’s not a man to worry about his ‘stats’:
“In a theatre it is the actors themselves, not the critics, who deliver their lines, and likewise in our sport riders compete without worrying about records, statistics and their place in history.”
But he was keen to explain why he likes the Asian cycling scene:
“With all due respect to European teams and the Monuments and Grand Tours that comprise the history of cycling, in Asia and China in particular, they are investing heavily in sport – especially cycling.
“And that’s even against the backdrop of economic difficulties – as an example team cars are supplied for all teams, riders stay in top hotels; even little things like massage tables are provided.
“There are lots of positive factors; too many to cover in this interview, but one of the important aspects is that prizes are paid immediately after the race so the rider feels like he is being paid properly for his labour.”
We’d heard that he’s a big fan of Chinese racing in particular:
“On the subject of China, it’s all the small differences that are nice, at the stage finishes they had an app whereby spectators could put their own face on the riders on the TV screens, a bit like the old days where you had a cut-out for the face on a big poster, a small thing, but a really nice touch.”
He didn’t give much away when asked about how long he intends to continue to race:
“God willing and depending on what He has in store for me, I intend to keep riding as long as I can.
“If you look at riders like Chris Horner, Jens Voigt, Davide Rebellin and Danilo Hondo then age isn’t necessarily a problem.”
Perhaps Yuriy’s biggest successes are the two victories he scored in the GP Costa degli Etruschi:
“A win at any level is an extremely important achievement for any rider and my first race with the pros was the GP Costa degli Etruschi in 2002 which I managed to win thanks to the excellent work of my then – coach, Olivano Locatelli and the efforts of Yaroslav Popovych who led me out for the last couple of hundred metres in the final sprint.
“I won that race again in 2004 but I’ll never forget that first win.”
We asked why, after a highly promising start to his career in the Ukraine there had been a ‘lull.’
“As in most European countries, football is the most popular sport in the Ukraine and other sports have great difficulty getting funding and therefore, winning medals.
“I don’t quite know why I don’t have more results from this part of my career; I was riding many races and won stages and got second on GC in the 1996 Tour of Tunisia.
“The following year I won four stages and finished ninth on GC in the same race but when I was 23 I couldn’t find a team and decided to stop riding and concentrate on the family meat business to earn a living.
“But God works in mysterious ways and I then came into contact with the coach Ivan Doroshuk.
“He helped me rediscover the sport and suggested I read the bible, so every year since 1999 I have re-read this great book.”
Yuriy went on to tell us about the development of his career:
“After a good 2001, I won 14 races with the Italian Vellutex team led by Locatelli; I rode against riders like Popovych, Loddo, Caruso, Bileka and Bernuchi.
“I signed for Landbouwkrediet-Colnago in 2002 but I fell badly a few days after my first win; I still have the scar on my face to this day.
“At the end of 2004 I couldn’t find a team for 2005 and rode for the Ukrainian national team, winning 13 races that season.
“Then I was helped by my good friend and cycling fanatic Fabio Perego who got me a place in the Miche team, and then LPR, but the program with them wasn’t of the highest level, I lacked that competitive edge.
“In 2007 I got a start with the Polish team MapaMap, and then met Mr Fanini of the Amore -Vita team and was reborn as a rider for a second time thanks to the Fanini family and rode for Amore – Vita in 2008-2009.
“In 2010, the Ukrainian ISD team was merged with Guiseppe Saronni’s Lampre team, I was to be part of the project but fate decided otherwise and I didn’t sign for them.
“I then rode for the Ukrainian national squad before returning to Fanini’s Amore – Vita team again for 2010 and 2011.
“I have ridden for the Turkish Torku – SekerSport team for the last couple of years.”
With thanks to Yuriy and to VeloVeritas friend Ivan, who translated the interview from Yuriy’s native Russian for us.
And when discussing Yuriy, remember that it’s ‘Hard’ with a capital ‘H.’