How many juniors do you remember who trained three times every day, clocking up 1,000 kilometres each week? That’s what it took to make Nikolai Razouvaev World Junior Team Time Trial Champion in 1984, but that was a much better option than taking on the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
If you were a cycling fan back in the 70’s and 80’s things were different – there were amateurs and professionals; the sport wasn’t divided U23/Elite as it is now.
But there was another division within the amateur ranks; there were the East Europeans – and there was everyone else.
The Peace Race, l’Avenir, Worlds and Olympics all bore the big bold stamp of Soviet Bloc nations.
How were they so good?
You can nod knowingly and say well; ‘it was what they were taking.’
Here’s Nikolai Razouvaev’s tale:
Is it true that selection for sports was made according to physical characteristics, when you were at school?
“Yes, the coaches were selecting their recruits based on physical characteristics suitable for the sport they worked in.
“For example, an overweight guy would never be selected for a road cycling school, but he could have better luck going to a wrestling or weight lifting school.”
What were your dreams as a young Russian cyclist?
“Once I realized I was in it for a long term, my number one goal was to avoid serving two compulsory years of service in the Soviet Army.
“We had a system in place which made it possible to be officially in the Army and race at the same time without even touching the military uniform.
“This opportunity was only open to elite racers.
“In cycling, if you didn’t reach elite level by 17 years-of-age, you’d be in the Army by 18 years-of-age.
“At the time, USSR was at war with Afghanistan, we were losing thousands of soldiers every year in that war.
“Afghanistan didn’t appeal to me as a place to die in at the age of 18 years.
“I did everything I could to reach the elite level, including giving up on school, before I turned 17 years-of-age.
“Once I was recruited by Titan, a Soviet version of a pro team, I was given specific goals I was hired for.
“For example, I was told at the end of 1983 season, three months after I was hired, that I was expected to win gold at the 1984 Junior World Championships.
“It wasn’t a dream or something to aim for – they just tell you what results they want from you and you go and do it.
“My next stop was 1988 Olympic Games.
“I delivered the first result but failed with the second. To answer your question – I didn’t have any dreams about what I would like to win.
“I moved from one target, given to me by someone else, to another.
“I got some of them but missed others.”
Who were your idols and why?
“At first, it was Aavo Pikkuus; TTT Olympic and World champion – also Peace Race winner.
“The legend was he could do everything – climb, sprint and time trial.
“As a kid, I was told many times by my first coach: “You want to be like Aavo Pikkuus?
“Train hard, never give up and fight like a dog.”
“Sometimes, I took his advice too literally, especially the last part.
“Then came Sergey Sukhorouchenkov in 1979 and smashed everyone at the Peace Race.
“And then he did that incredible solo attack at the Moscow Olympic road race.
“Watching him win that race changed my perception of what road cycling was about.”
You were World Junior TTT champion in 1984 – what are your other palmarès?
“As a TTT specialist, we were told to keep our heads low in road races or help others when required so we didn’t chase road results as non-TTT riders did.
“Some results stood out though.
“In 1985 we were invited to GDR to race their national championship and we won the team time trial beating all those famous East Germans in their own country.
“In 1989, after I realized I’m wasting my time chasing TTT results,
“I won the Ukrainian road championship beating stars like Oleg Chuzhda, Sergey Gavrilko and Sergey Zmievskoy from a four man break.
“That was by far, my favourite road race win.
“In 1993, I won a pro-am race in Lac-Megantic (Canada), probably the only race that gave me some UCI points.”
Is it true the team had a two year build up for those Worlds?
“Yes and no.
“TTT training was part of my routine since 1983 so by August 1984 I had thousands of kilometres in me of pure TTT training.
“We started targeting the World’s from May 1984 after I made the National Team selection in April.
“By targeting I mean they had to select four guys out of about 10-12 initial candidates first.
“Once you’re down to six, they start to mix things up, trying to figure out what combination works best; who the most reliable riders are and so on.
“Once the final selection is made, you’re only weeks away from the race.
“This is when you start putting everything together, every little detail, polishing it up.
“Without TTT background, you wouldn’t get selected but the actual, targeted preparation was only 2-3 months long.”
Were you a ‘full time’ cyclist?
“Yes, I was paid a large salary by the government and made a lot more than that from being allowed to travel abroad.”
Tell us about your training – did you really train three times each day?
“When I moved to Kiev to race for Titan, I thought they were joking when I was told I would be training three times a day – 40 km first thing in the morning before breakfast, then 4-6 hours main ride from 10 o’clock and another 40 km before supper.
“We were clocking 4-4,500 km per month and I didn’t even turn 18 yet.
“The main rides were not your typical two abreast, long and steady rides; they were filled with 10-25 km intervals repeated over and over again in TTT formations.
“Intensities varied depending on where we were in our training cycle.
“Closer to a 100 km TTT, the intervals’ intensities would reach their peak and we would start hitting our gold standard –