If it’s May, it’s time to race in Italy, and Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’s Ilnur Zakarin takes his participation in the 102nd Giro d’Italia very seriously.
Zakarin:“The Giro is a race I like very much. I’ve started this race three or four times.”
This year will be his fourth participation, actually. His debut ride in the Tour of Italy was in 2015, where he won stage 11 after attacking from a breakaway. The weather was heavy rain, but there was no stopping Ilnur from claiming his victory at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari racing circuit in Imola.
Zakarin:“Yes, my first win in a grand tour came at the Giro. I was very happy when I won that day.”
Ilnur Zakarin's first win in a grand tour, stage 11 Giro d'Italia 2015
A return to the Giro in 2016 gave Ilnur Zakarin an untimely crash and forced withdrawl from the race. He was doing well, sitting nicely in fifth overall, with only a few stages still to go. But a crash on the descent of the Colle dell’Agnello, playing out on television for everyone to see, sent Zakarin to the hospital with a fracture to his left collarbone and shoulder, thereby ending his race. But when the Tour de France came around in July, Ilnur was named to the team and won stage 17, a solo win and his first in the French tour.
One more time back in 2017 also gave him good results with an overall fifth place finish and second place finishes on three individual stages. That year’s win went to Tom Dumoulin. Later in the year he claimed third overall in the Vuelta de España.
Fifth in overall GC in the 2017 edition
Zakarin:“I prepared especially for this race. I did long training rides with this race in mind. It has been a big goal for me. I like the parcours and I think it is harder than some other years.” This year’s race includes 3 TTs, including Saturday’s 8.2km start in Bologna, and six mountain stages. This time the race stays within the borders of Italy, much to the joy of the enthusiastic Italian tifosi (fans). Ilnur added: “People cheer for all of the riders in Italy and one added good thing is that the food is so good in all of the hotels!”
Assessing the competition, Zakarin feels there are many good general classification contenders ready to contest the win:“There will be good competition from the start. I see favorites like Primoz Roglic, Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali and Mikel Landa all eager to race hard from the beginning.”
Zakarin with his young Russian teammate Dmitry Strakhov
Guiding Zakarin through all of it will be Russian director Dmitry Konyshev and Italian Claudio Cozzi. Zakarin: “Konyshev has a close relationship with me and he has lived in Italy a long time. He is well known here, and even has an Italian wife. He’s a person I trust and he has so much experience with the Giro. Cozzi too.”
As the time comes to start the Giro for his fourth time, Zakarin reflects on the opportunity ahead of him: “I lived in Italy for one year and I like this country very much. I know this first little climb we will try on Saturday – it’s hard. I came here right after Romandy and my wife joined me for a few days, but now I am ready to race the Giro.”
Last training before the big start in Bologna
Photos: Kathrin Schafbauer