With an original goal to get Ilnur Zakarin onto the podium in the 72nd Vuelta a España, Team KATUSHA ALPECIN General Manager José Azevedo was all praise for the Russian star who took third place in the Spanish tour as it came to a three-week conclusion in Madrid on Sunday.
“We started this Vuelta with the goal of fighting for the GC. Now Ilnur has earned this result and we are happy and proud. He came onto the team 3 years ago and we worked with a plan, always aiming toward him being our leader, especially after the retirement of Joaquim Rodríguez. The proof of our belief in him is at the beginning of the Giro d’Italia in May when we signed a 2-year contract extension with him. We did not need to wait to see the results of his season – we already had the confidence in him for wins in the big tours,” said Azevedo.
“I’m very happy and to have fought with Alberto Contador yesterday was a great memory. This is my first grand tour podium so all of this is new to me. But I am starting to be comfortable standing along side many of the great riders in cycling,” said Ilnur Zakarin.
Taking the top spot on the podium and earning his fifth grand tour win, Chris Froome of Team Sky charted the best time of 82:30:02 (37.851 km/h) for the 21-stage race, becoming one of only three riders to win the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in the same year, along with Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault. Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling was second, (+2.15), Zakarin held third at +2.51, Wilco Kelderman of Sunweb was fourth (+3.15) and retiring 7-time grand tour winner Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) rounded out the top five at +3.18. Contador rode into Madrid ahead of the peloton to say farewell to his fans and his championship career.
Assessing the performance of Ilnur Zakarin was sports director Dmitry Konyshev: “He was brilliant in this race. Also we missed three guys who were out of the race but we know everyone was giving all that they had. We will look at the parcours for next year’s grand tours and see which is best for him; maybe it will be the Tour. He is a very good guy. He asks good questions, he explains things when he needs to, he communicates with us and is easy to work with. When we make our plan, we make it together. We have very good cooperation with him and he is nice to his teammates. He is a good man.”
“Ilnur is a quality rider. My goal and the goal of the team is to win a grand tour. He is starting to believe he can do it and we think he can, also. It is important to think like this. Now he has more confidence and experience. He has the right mentality going forward. For next year we are bringing more climbers on the team in support of him to make the team in the mountains stronger. He deserves this place. He is easy to work with, very professional and has very clear ideas about what he wants in both cycling and life. He has all the ingredients to be a big champion,” said Azevedo.
Stage 21 at 117.6km began in Arroyomolinos and ended with the traditional laps in central Madrid. The sprint stage was won by Matteo Trentin of Quick-Step Floors.
Photo credit © Tim De Waele