Alexander Kolobnev is entering the sweet spot of his calendar.
The 29-year-old Russian will line up at Saturday’s Clásica San Sebastián as one of the outsiders for victory. His Katusha teammate Joaquim Rodríguez might be the favored “at home” rider, but Kolobnev can never be counted out in one-day races.
“The Clásica will be a very different race this year,” Kolobnev told VeloNews. “They’ve added a second passage over the Jaizkibel, so it will be much more selective. It will favor riders will good legs after the Tour.”
That would certainly include Kolobnev, who came to life in the third week of the Tour. Always the odd man out when it came time to select the Tour Nine when he rode at Rabobank and CSC, Kolobnev finally got a Tour de France nod in his first season with Katusha.
Kolobnev made the most of the opportunity, sneaking into the day’s main breakaway on the Tourmalet summit finish. Kolobnev was the last man standing out of the breakaway, but was reeled in about halfway up the climb by the attacking GC riders.
“I needed another two minutes at the base of the Tourmalet and I think I could have held on to win the stage. It was a great feeling to be riding alone at the front of the race up the Tourmalet, until they caught me,” Kolobnev recounted. “I didn’t feel great at the start of the Tour, but I came around in the end. I am coming out of the Tour stronger. I am looking forward to the rest of the season.”
That will include a trip to the Vuelta a España, where he will join a strong Katusha squad with the role of stage-hunter. He’ll use the Vuelta as preparation for the world championships.
A two-time runner-up, Kolobnev hopes he gets another shot at the rainbow jersey in Australia.
“Maybe it’s not an ideal course for me, but the course will be harder than people think,” he said. “I am always motivated for the worlds. Of course, I would like to win.”
Kolobnev is nicknamed “the sniper” for his ability to pick targets. His specialty is demanding, long-distance, hilly one-day races.
He’s come incredibly close to several major victories. In 2007, he won the inaugural Monte Paschi Eroica race and a stage in Paris-Nice before surprising many with second to Paolo Bettini in Stuttgart, Germany.
In 2008, he admitted he made a mistake by “riding for victory instead of a medal” at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, crossing the line fourth after opening up his sprint a little too early rather than playing it conservative to settle for a medal.
Silver medalist Davide Rebellin later tested positive for CERA and Kolobnev has been bumped to third in the record books, but he never got to stand on the final podium.
Again last year, Kolobnev was second at the Mendrisio world championships, heading across the line just ahead of current teammate Rodríguez to take his second silver in three years. He then rode to third at Giro di Lombardia to round out his season.
After bouncing around Italian, Dutch and Danish teams, including stints at Domina Vacanze, Rabobank and CSC, Kolobnev has settled into the Russian team Katusha for 2010.
So far, he’s had a solid season, riding to second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and racing his first Tour of his career. Surprisingly, he said riding for Katusha is not much different than any other pro team, except with one major difference.
“Katusha is like any other team. It’s professional, it’s well-organized, everyone knows what their responsibilities are,” Kolobnev said. “The nice thing is I get to speak Russian. That hasn’t happened on any other teams I was on.”
Kolobnev hopes to be speaking Russian from atop the world championship podium some day. He owns two of Russia’s four worlds medal. His Katusha sport director, the legendary Dimitri Konyshev, owns the other two. None are gold, something Kolobnev hopes to remedy sooner than later.