Rider Interview: Our third and last exclusive Astana interview is with Andrei Grivko. He has a lot to talk about; the Astana team and the conflict in his home land of Ukraine. Andrei also has experience by the bucketful. We caught up with him at the Astana training camp in Spain.
The first big problem is his name, I found four different versions: Andriy Hrivko, Andrey Grivko and Андрій Грiвко, but we should go with his choice of Andrei Grivko. Andrei has been a pro since 2005 when he joined the Domina Vacanze team where he rode the Tour de France in his first year. Three years with Milram were followed by one season with ISD before teaming up with Astana in 2010. Ten Grand Tour finishes, a Vuelta stage in the team time trial and a handful of National titles.
PEZ: How big is cycling in Ukraine?
It’s been at the same level for the last five years, we have Continental teams and some riders like Yaroslav Popovych and me that ride for ProTour teams. But for the new generation it’s not at a big level, but we have two Continental teams with around thirty riders. This year they started a new project, its like a Continental team for Under 23, the young riders. The problem is they ride UCI 2.2 races, some low level races, not like ProConinental that can get ‘Wild Card’ invites, they need the money for a budget, it’s a big difference between ProContinental and Continental level. OK this is not a nice period and we didn’t have a good president, but now I hope we can do more to try to get to a higher level of cycling.
PEZ: What about the juniors?
Yes, we have the government paid school, which has a program, but it is for every sport. Its like from the old CCCP (USSR-Soviet Union), like old school. It’s a big problem because we have a good start for the sportsmen, but no final destination, not like the Kazakh’s who have this team in the ProTour and you can ride the Giro, Tour and the Classics, OK we can ride the World championships and Olympics, but for the most important races you need to be in the ProTour.
PEZ: It’s like before with the old Eastern Block, you could only be amateur.
Yeah, this is the problem; in Europe you could go a step more and we in this country are still in the 90’s, at this level, although everyone is talking about reform in sport and the politics and going into Europe. Last month I told the federation that we must go into Europe as cycling is very important there. OK everyone knows football is No. 1, but in the Netherlands and Belgium it’s the most important sport and in France and Italy is also very important. The problem we have is that in the last ten years it’s just football. Football was also part of the national program of sport and the sponsor had who invested in football had some privilege and the rest of the sports were left to do what they could. OK we had big champions, but that was because those guys had passion for the sport and maybe had a personal sponsor, but it was not a good climate for the sport. I hope for the future when the problems pass, maybe in one or two years there will be some important changes and some program will start in cycling. Ukraine is a nice place, it’s not like Siberia with -40ºC, we have a climate like Europe, and it’s a big country with a population of 42 million people.
PEZ: It’s not like Estonia with 1.2 million.
No, it’s not like Estonia. It will be the biggest country in Europe by area, much bigger than France and Germany, although if they annex Crimea it might not be. Anyway we have two Continental teams and maybe in a year we will move up to the next level. With a better budget they will be able to race in France and Belgium so they can be more competitive, they must to race in Europe.
PEZ: Do you know your calendar for next year?
Yes, I know and it has become simpler because I have the experience, but it is much the same as last year. In the first part of the season I will try to get some results in the Classics, I’ll go to the first and second part of the Classics and after I will prepare for the Tour de France, to help Nibali repeat what he did last year. I’m on the Tour program, but it’s a long time to July. The only difference is that I wont go to Australia; I’m going to Dubai and Oman, then Tirreno before the Classics.
PEZ: Do you prefer Oman to Australia?
Well, it’s a very nice race, the Tour Down Under, but the level is much higher than before. To be in the top ten is very, very difficult because the Australian riders have something more than the riders coming form Europe. Also for the Australian guys it’s very important for their teams, it’s their home race, like their World championships.
PEZ: If you had a stage race in Ukraine you would be the same.
Yeah of course. I’ve ridden in Australia three or four times, but five years ago it was a different race, you could go just like that, but now you must prepared for it and fly two weeks before the race because there it’s 40ºC and also there is the problem of when you come back, it’s the winter in Europe.
PEZ: Where do you live now?
I live in France; I used to live in Italy, but now Monaco. It’s perfect for training and for the family and also to relax and for my wife. Five years ago I preferred Tuscany it’s very nice, but now Monaco because it is small, but a big city and also for the climate it’s better. In Tuscany sometimes there will be a week of cold weather. The climate has changed also, when I was there in 2002 it was like winter here in Spain, but after 2005 there was snow and also the training was not perfect.
PEZ: What is the weather like in Ukraine?
It’s a bit like Tuscany. I can go just 300 kilometers from Crimea to Turkey and Istanbul, so it’s quite far south. Moscow is 1,200 kilometers away so we get cold weather sometimes from Siberia, but if the wind comes from Turkey its warm. Maybe it’s a bit like living in Madrid or Paris where it’s zero with some snow, OK it’s not like Astana where it’s -40ºC.
PEZ: What was the pressure like riding for Vincenzo in the Tour?
We don’t get that much pressure, maybe in the last week from journalists.
PEZ: But having you team leader in the yellow jersey, does that make a lot more work for the team?
For sure there is more to do, if you have the yellow jersey you have to control the race, you have to watch every attack. When the riders attack in the first 50 kilometers and the break gets away, as long as there are no important guys there, its OK and it’s easier. But for the first hour or two it can be big stress.
PEZ: TV should show the first hour and the last hour.
Yeah, in the middle its like everybody goes at the same speed and nothing happens, but in the first hour everyone attacks.
PEZ: Same again next year?
That’s objective No. 1 for next season for the team.
PEZ: Your father was a cyclist?
Yes, it was because of him I got into cycling, because in those days we didn’t have it on television with EuroSport or anything. But I liked to see him training and then I got my bikes. I liked all sports; running and cycling, I was very sporty. My father always told me to be active, to do some sport, not to sit on the settee and do nothing.
PEZ: Which other Ukrainian riders inspired you when you were young?
When I was a junior we had big riders, there were Outschakov, Gonchar, Popovich, although Popovich was more when I was Under23 and he was professional, he was third overall in the Giro d’Italia (2003) and a big star. He won a lot of races in Italy and had the white jersey in the Tour de France. I watched his career and eventually we spoke and now we are good friends. I remember that US Postal team with Popovich and Lance Armstrong in my first Tour de France in 2005, OK my level wasn’t the same as those guys, but I was 5th on one stage from a breakaway.
PEZ: Have you seen a lot of champions and changes in cycling during your career?
I’ve ridden for a lot of champions during my career, like Contador, Vino and now Vincenzo. Sometimes I have had good results, maybe a podium, I’ve not won many races, but in my career I have some results and I’m happy for this and that I have ridden the Tour de France many times and for the winner last year. I hope to do the same for another three or four years and I hope the same for the team, especially at the moment in this ‘unpleasant’ period for the team. I hope the team can come back in popularity. In the last few days we’ve had some things written in the papers and on the internet and our popularity has totally gone. That is also a change, before we didn’t have internet, but now things are more open. Everyone has Twitter and speak about everything, true or not true. But seriously, next year we try to do the same or better results and show the people.
PEZ: What about training methods, they have changed a lot.
The last two or three years have been the same, now we have SRM, when I was young we didn’t have SRM we just had Polar.
PEZ: When I was young we didn’t have Polar, just a watch, if you were lucky.
The bikes and the wheels have changed a lot, the equipment is always changing, so we have more speed on the flat and maybe more crashes. There is much more technology and every two or three years there is something new and maybe some new things in training too. But importantly with experience you know your body and your body tells you to do this or that, to go training or to rest, to go to altitude or to stay at home. When you know all this it’s simpler to prepare for the races. When I was young I didn’t know anything, I just rode and when I was bad I would just go home and relax.
PEZ: But when you were an amateur you just wanted to ride every day and race all the time.
Yes, but now it is simpler because you know what you will be doing in July or in the spring.
PEZ: Can we talk about the problems in Ukraine?
Sure. The problem at the moment, in general, is that we don’t know what Russia will do in the future. But the problem isn’t just in Crimea it is also in Donetsk. Nobody speaks about it but everyday there is shooting. The problem for the national team is that some of the guys are from Donetsk, it’s a big city but without any rules. Some people have moved away to try to have a normal life, but not everyone can do that and it is also dangerous.
PEZ: Do you go back to Ukraine?
At the end of this training camp I will go back to stay for a little time, it’s different in the big cities of four million people and these people live a normal life, they go to work etc. The problem is only in the parts near the Russian territories with the pro-Russian people. Some call them separatists, some terrorists and some pro-Russian, I just can’t understand the people who do this. Last year when I was in Crimea in Ukraine, we would see the problems in Iraq or Israel and we would say we don’t understand these people and wonder how is this is possible. Now it’s in my country, we didn’t have a problem and then after one day… boom! I hope it will finish in less than a year, I hope this still isn’t going on for five or six years and people can live normal lives. For sure people want to live without the war and we want to go into Europe now, not just to be in Europe, but also to have the rules of Europe, this is the concept of the changes in Ukraine. But we have the problem that some people don’t understand and want to stay with the old rules.
PEZ: But some people in Ukraine must be pro-Russian and Russian speakers?
Look at Switzerland, there are people who speak German, French, Italian, but nobody speaks about this territory must be Italian or German. That country speaks different languages with no problem, same in Russia. In Ukraine you speak Russian or Ukrainian and its no problem. For me; if you have a Ukrainian passport then you are Ukrainian and if you have a Russian passport then you are Russian, also if you want to live in Russia you are free to go and live in Russia, I don’t see the problem and I don’t see why a part of Ukraine should come out of Ukraine. There is also the problem of the passport for riding the World championships, to ride for Ukraine you must have a Ukrainian passport, not Russian.
PEZ: When you finish cycling will you go back to live in Crimea?
We will see, every year things change. I want to do more for cycling, maybe with the team. But I can live here or anywhere, at the moment as a cyclist I have to live here (in Europe) for training and for traveling to races, if I lived in Ukraine I would have to fly all the time. Things are changing all the time, so we will have to see what happens in the future. I hope we can win the Tour de France again and then it’s step by step. But it’s important for me to remain in cycling after my career and to pass on my experience to the younger riders.
PEZ: What do you want for yourself next season?
For myself I want to do my best in the Classics and get some bigger results there, I also like the Eneco Tour. Last year I was fourth on general and two years ago I was third, so maybe this year I’ll try to win the race. I want to be up there in the Classics like in Flanders and Amstel; lets see what I can do.
The threat of war in your country puts cycling problems in persepective. Let’s hope the new year brings good news from Ukraine and Andrei can win a Classic.