Words: Toby Miles (@toby_milesTM)
Guy Niv and Vlad Loginov had very different summers. One made his Tour de France debut, the other flicked through the TV channels to watch cycling’s showpiece for the very first time.
Remarkably, they finished just eight seconds apart at the 2020 Israel National Time-Trial Championships. The Israel Start-Up Nation World Tour rider in 2nd, the barista and professional dancer in 3rd.
Not bad in your second racing season, on a borrowed bike, racing an elite time-trial for the first time. Not bad at all.
Two weeks later on the hills of Beit Guvrin National Park, south-west of Jerusalem, the road race championship underscored the Ukrainian-born rider’s potential. Ganged-up on by four blue and white jerseys, he fought back and scored a fourth-place that has forced Israel - and its premier team - to take note.
‘I was a bit afraid to do the championship. I’ve never raced that kind of distance, with cars to support and guys like that… wow,’ the magnificently moustachioed 25-year-old said.
‘They just came from the Vuelta, Giro d’Italia, Tour de France. Then there’s me, Vlad from Ukraine, just a simple dancer.’
Greeted by Canadian billionaire, amateur racer and Israel Start-Up Nation backer Sylvain Adams at the finish line, Loginov has also bagged himself a day of testing with the World Tour squad’s Cycling Academy development team. Not bad at all.
Who can resist a bargain? Not Loginov, whose cycling journey began with a Black Friday purchase little more than three-years-ago.
‘I decided to buy a bike just because of the price, thinking “it looks good, it’s totally black, let’s try,”’ he says.
Loginov’s switch from the stage to dancing on the pedals was sparked by a move from his hometown of Odessa, Ukraine, to Tel Aviv, where the pursuit of performance has ‘pushed dance from my life.’
‘I danced since I was seven-years-old,’ he said. ‘I was a professional in the theatre while I studied in a law academy and worked as a bartender. I didn’t have time for anything, just working like a mother******.
‘For five years I danced as a soloist of the philharmonic theatre, moving around a lot to Spain, France, Moldova. Maybe that’s why I’m able to push hard now, because that school gave me a lot.
‘Six hours of dancing a day is a good workout, Loginov added, joking: ‘I guess about 250TSS a day!’
A rapid rise through the amateur ranks and a prolific 2019, including the Masters national title (the category below elite), landed Loginov on the start-line in Beit Guvrin - setting his sights on the elite jersey for the first time.
Buoyed by his time-trial podium 14-days prior, Loginov crashed Israel Start-Up Nation’s breakaway party in the road race.
The World Tour squad have a ruthless stranglehold on the national title. Since the team was founded in 2015, they have secured 15 out of the 18 available podium spots. A young Guy Sagiv beat them to the title in their debut season, but he was hurriedly signed-up days later.
Only 10 riders lined-up for the coronavirus-hit road race. Half that field belonged to Israel Start-Up Nation.
Omer Goldstein was fresh from 21 days rubbing shoulders with Primoz Roglic and Chris Froome at the Vuelta a Espana. Triple Israeli champion Sagiv finished the Giro d’Italia this year. Only two months earlier, Guy Niv had rattled down the Champs Elysees in Paris.
But fear didn’t seep into Loginov’s psyche at the mention of those great races. Maybe ignorance was his shield: ‘Because of the quarantine I got a Eurosport subscription and started watching some races. Before, I didn’t really care.
‘I watched every stage of this year’s Tour de France and began to understand what’s going on in the pro peloton. If the quarantine didn’t happen, I don’t think I’d have cared.’
He’s never heard of Ian Stannard, nor his daylight robbery of three Etixx-Quick Step riders at the 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but Loginov found himself dangerously outnumbered just like the hard-man Brit.
After Niv’s from-the-gun attack was reeled in, the Grand Tour trio and team-mates Itamar Einhorn and Eitan Levi looked back to see only a flamboyant moustache staring back at them.
A hailstorm of attacks followed, with the favourites keen to ditch the unknown imposter and fight-out the championships between themselves.
‘They did the right thing. Who am I? Nobody knows, I’m not from their community, I didn’t grow up in their teams.
‘That’s a cool thing for me I think, I could play with that because nobody knew what to expect from me. They did thousands of attacks and I was just holding the wheel of a guy I knew wanted to win, Omar Goldstein.
‘Eventually they understood that it wouldn’t be as easy as they thought to drop me.’
Incredibly, Niv and Einhorn exploded as Loginov, riding for Team 500Watt, hung on. Three versus one.
As the attacks abated and the foursome cooperated to the final lap, Loginov had some unlikely encouragement from his rivals’ team boss, Sylvain Adams, who the 25-year-old had taken on in the amateur ranks last year.
‘On the last lap he was in the car and shouting “attack, attack, you are strong.”
‘To me! Not to his guys. I thought “he’s shouting for me? Oh my god, really?” It gave me so much power, I was super stoked.’
Inexperience was Loginov’s downfall in the final run-in, as the wily World Tour professionals waited patiently for the sprint. Stabbing cramp was setting in, deep into the longest race of his short career.
The final sprint was one acceleration too far. The trio burned past, finally dispatching Loginov. Goldstein roared in to bag the jersey, Levi and Sagiv followed. Seven seconds later, Vlad bagged a sensational fourth-place. His assessment: ‘It was fun.’
A well-earned, if breathless, chat with Adams followed the race. As did the offer of testing with his Israel Cycling Academy team.
‘I know I have an opportunity, it would be cool if I could become a semi-professional cyclist next year.’
For now, Loginov, his retro facial hair and his ‘Avo cado’ Strava profile are the fresh curiosity of Israel’s cycling community: ‘Everyone recognises me because of the moustache.’
Loginov is certainly still deep in cycling’s honeymoon phase, a time when the love of riding clouds any thoughts of the future, potential semi-professional contracts and beyond. Next up are the track championships in Tel Aviv. He’ll continue to dance on the side, while working in a city cafe.
‘I will just do my best,’ Loginov says on his ambitions. ‘For me the journey is important, not the final goal. For now, I’m enjoying the journey.
‘What the destination is, I don’t know. I’ll just give everything 100 per cent. ’
Not a bad strategy. Not bad at all.