Russian cycling has produced a number of strong riders in the past, such as Denis Menchov. After Menchov retired, however, it took a long time for his successor to appear. Until Ilnur Zakarin came on the scene. This rider has had a number of good rankings in recent years, and is going all out in this Vuelta a España.
Zakarin started his career with a massive false start: as a twenty-year-old rider, in 2009, he was caught using anabolic steroids and suspended for two years by the Russian Cycling Federation.
Everyone deserves a second chance, however, including Ilnur Zakarin. In 2011, his career really got going. Although it wasn’t immediately successful, Zakarin had to fight hard for recognition, and rode through his early years in smaller teams like Itera-Kathusha and RusVelo. He participated in races mostly in and around Russia, where he was able to achieve decent results. For example, in 2013 he became Russian time trial champion, and in 2014 he won competitions such as the Tour of Azerbaijan, the Grand Prix of Sochi and the Grand Prix of Adygea. After that he was in the spotlight of Team Katusha and was finally able to showcase his talent in the big races.
He took his chances seriously. In 2015, Zakarin won the classification in the Tour de Romandie and after that he grabbed a stage during the Giro d’Italia, his first Grand Tour. After these successes, he finally had name recognition as one to watch.
The following year, 2016, Zakarin returned to the Giro with classification ambitions. He seemed well on his way. In the nineteenth stage while he was in fifth place in the general classification, however, he crashed hard in a descent, breaking his collarbone. But he didn’t let that hold him back, and he showed up at the start of the Tour de France of that same year. He couldn’t ride a strong classification, but he did get a nice stage victory.
The final breakthrough
Zakarin’s definitive breakthrough happened in 2017. He didn’t win a victory that year, but in both the Giro and the Vuelta he achieved strong results. In the Giro he came fifth, behind winner Tom Dumoulin, and later that year he got third in the Vuelta. His achievement in Spain meant he had finally succeeded Denis Menchov, who in 2009 was the last Russian on the podium of a Grand Tour.
This year, Zakarin shined in the Tour de France, where he secured a top-ten position. His goal is to beat his personal best in the Vuelta this year, which he enjoys racing. We will soon find out if he can do that in the weeks ahead.