Cycling is difficult to classify as traditional sports for our country. Nevertheless, in Kazakhstan, there have always been big names in this sport, which were known all over the world: Alexander Vinokurov, the late Andrey Kivilev, and a number of other riders. In addition, the pride of Kazakhstan's cycling is the professional team Astana Pro Team, which does not skimp on money and regularly invites world-famous racers in its ranks - the T-shirt of our team at different times was dressed by such people as Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru and others.
Hence the good results, which Astana Pro Team regularly shows in the most prestigious races. Nevertheless, the glory of the Kazakh team is not the only one alive, a whole lot of talented athletes grow up in Kazakhstan, the brightest of them can be considered to be Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, with whom the team recently signed a new contract. The 25-year-old sportsman in an exclusive interview to El.kz shared his plans for the future, and also spoke about his impressions of participating in the largest European Grand Tours.
- Bakhtiyar, this year you took part in the Tour de France, where you performed very, very well. How difficult was it for you at such a serious and prestigious bike race?
- As everyone knows, the Tour de France is one of the greatest races of world cycling. Of course, I was overwhelmed with emotions, mostly of a positive nature. This cycling had to be approached with all seriousness, and from our side, there was an intensive long-term preparation for it. The Tour de France was the second big bike for me, and I felt great, so I managed to approach it in the form I wanted. In general, I am satisfied with the bike race, and the way I drove my first Tour de France. My highest achievement on it was the 21st place, a 22nd place I took on the Champs Elysees, at the last stage of cycling. On the penultimate mountain stage, I became 23rd. I can say that the last best stage for me was in the third week, where the main events of the race developed. Thanks to the body, which adapted well to the new conditions, and I felt fine.
- You are ranked among the main hopes of the whole Kazakhstan cycling since the times of Alexander Vinokurov and other well-known domestic riders. This is indicated by the fact that Astana Pro Team, as far as we know, has recently extended the contract with you. Did you receive any suggestions from other cycling teams?
- I am very flattered if someone really thinks so of me, however, in my opinion, it's too early for me to compare with Vinokurov. Probably, it will be correct to say that there may be some indicators that allow in the future to hope that in the future I will reach the level of Alexander Vinokurov and other well-known riders. At the moment I just need to work hard and work on myself. At least now all my thoughts are focused on this. As for the contract, it's true, the contract was extended to me. To that, I am unspeakably happy. As for proposals from other teams, to be honest, I did not negotiate with anyone, and there were no concrete proposals. After all, everyone understands that I am in favor of my own team, which gives me certain hopes. Astana Pro Team invests in me certain means and efforts, helping me to develop as an athlete. And I understand that it would be foolish to negotiate with other teams.
- What for you is the fact of membership in such a team with a world name, like Astana Pro Team? Do not you feel a great responsibility, if only for the reason that such well-known personalities as Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, and others performed for it?
- In principle, there is no such thing. Perhaps, on the contrary, it stimulates to always progress and achieves more than you have now. The fact that such names as Contador and Nibali played for our team is, of course, very pleasant. Astana Pro Team for 10 years, and during this time many world stars put on the form of this team. Quite frankly, all responsibility falls on them, and you just observe from the outside and try to learn the best from more experienced and successful partners. In particular, the way you can better manifest yourself in a particular bike race, how to efficiently prepare for it, how to properly spend time in training. When there is an opportunity to observe such stars, you also involuntarily begin to grow up and learn from them, gain experience, so to speak. So, with confidence, I can say that I do not feel any pressure. This is my native team, and I feel very comfortable in it. I do not see any barriers to further growth, I think this is the main thing for sports progress.
- In the continuation of the topic - tell us, what good qualities did you learn from your more famous team-mates?
- I learned a lot from Vincenzo Nibali, including the qualities of a moral character. I remember how, during my first Grand Tour of the Giro de Italia, Vincenzo showed himself with the best of luck. We lost with a gap of four minutes and fought for a 4-5 place. Nibali went all in for two days literally made history, winning the Giro de Italia, and even with so much reserve. We were then overwhelmed by emotions that swept with great force - it was hard to believe, but he did it! And, you need to consider that Vincenzo performed on his native land and lost at first in front of his native fans, which in itself already psychologically would have put pressure on anyone. But he did not give up, fought to the end, and eventually proved to everyone who is the best in that race. If someone said that it would be so, when we were lagging behind, many people would have probably laughed at this person. So, I learned the lesson that you can never give up, in any situation you need to fight to the end, and then it can change. It is necessary to fight for every split second, probably this is the most basic thing that I have learned. I also saw Fabio Aru and Jacob Fuglsang getting ready for serious cycling. In particular, Fabio spends his time at the training camps and is not distracted by anything. Probably, this is also worth studying. Seeing how the best bicycle riders train, you can visually see that it is unceasing labor that gives good results afterward.
- Astana Pro Team, as a rule, relies on experienced world-class riders. It is clear that this way the team declares its claims to the highest places. Nevertheless, do you think that in the near future eminent foreigners can successfully replace Kazakhstani riders? Are there any more young racers with bright prospects?
- Of course, have. Even the current World Cup shows that our juniors are progressing well. I'm now watching the "Unders" (junior, from English Under, to Ed, ed.) Race and I watch our team lead it. It is already clear that our youth have the potential, and if we work in the right direction, we will see good results in just two or three years. We have very good children's and youth schools, just have a little work with the guys. We have people who can win, we are no worse than foreign riders in their potential. Do not think that if you got into a good team, this is the limit of your abilities. If each of us will constantly work on ourselves, then there will be victories. More recently, in the Spanish Vuelta, Alexei Lutsenko won the stage, which is also in itself a great achievement. Kazakhstani children are growing up, and if everything goes well, in 2-3 years they will be able to replace leaders and become captains of teams themselves. In principle, the same Lutsenko has grown and already proves that he can be a captain on the classic races, which he gets better. Although, of course, among the "general officers" who can fight for weeks on grand tours, it is still difficult to compete. We need to grow because not everything turns out right away.
- Tell us about your becoming a rider. How did you come to cycling? When did the bike craze grow into something more serious, into the work of your life?
- I remembered the beginning of my career for the rest of my life. This all happened at school number 24, where I studied. Somehow by chance, I found out that my school friends go on cycling. Then I even had no idea about cycling, as such. I just wanted a bike to ride it. I talked to the guys, but they told me that they could not take me to the coach for some reason. But, literally a week later my first coach came to us for a physical education lesson. As it turned out, every year he recruits children to his section about November, to do general physical training. There he noticed me and called to him. It all began just then and there. Of course, initially in my parish in cycling everything was far from professional, it was just fun to practice in the section and train together with other guys. Gradually, my hobby became more serious, and soon I got to the national team of the region. By itself, then there was a desire to get into the national team of Kazakhstan. Then, as you know, I got into the Astana Pro Team team. And in many ways, this happened thanks to my first coach, who saw in me the potential.
- When did you really believe that you can enter the ranks of the best and get into Astana Pro Team?
- Frankly, it happened not so long ago - in 2013. It was from this year that I began to speak for my region - the North-Kazakhstan region. I was not a member of the Kazakhstan national team, I was not involved in the world championships or other competitions. Just this year the continental team Astana-2 was opened, just then this team signed a contract with me. Then I realized that I can play for a professional team, at that moment it was realized that I will succeed. Somewhere there were good results, somewhere - not very much. But then the first talks started that I could get into this team.
- Let's talk about the development of cycling in our country as a whole. With all due respect to this sport, boxing and other single combats are traditionally successful for our country, and cycling success is achieved by units. At what level, in your opinion, is this sport now in our country?
- If we compare our level of cycling with European, then, of course, we are still lagging behind such countries as Italy and France. But if you look at the dynamics of cycling in our country over the past 5 years, you can see significant progress. We have our own team, we have our youth teams, we have everything, including the necessary equipment. We are growing every year. I agree with you that cycling is not yet a national sport. But all the same, the Astana Pro Team is known by cyclists all over the world. This is a big brand, and I think that you need to invest in cycling, and then it will become more popular in our country. We have an Olympic champion, champions of the world, so the domestic cycling has a future. The tour of Almaty has increased the category, and, I believe that every year we grow. And we have where to grow. There is something to work on, we must not forget about children's and youth schools, especially in the regions. Because the champions grow from there. The more boys will be attracted to cycling, the more competition will be among us, which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the overall level.
- Of course, it's too early to say. But, continuing the theme of youth sports and coaching career, do you have plans in the future to train younger children?
- By the way, I have a coaching education, I graduated from this specialty. But so far I have other thoughts about the future and plans. I have not realized myself 100%, I have not developed like a professional racer. And it is in this field that I see my primary goals and objectives. Therefore, until I thought about it. In the future - maybe. For me, the coach is tantamount to the second father, and I would like to be for someone in this status. But this is in the future. Now I'm concentrating on my career as a cyclist.
- I think, for our young riders you are already an example for imitation. Therefore, share the advice that you need a young man who has firmly decided to devote himself to cycling and dreaming to achieve success in this field?
- I am pleased that I am an example of someone. I will try not to let anybody down and show an even better example. Now I just want to wish young bicycle riders the belief in themselves, and say that everything is possible. If you set yourself a specific goal, you just have to work hard and step by step to it. Everyday. Sometimes, there are failures, but this should not stop. If you stubbornly go to your goal, someday, for sure you will achieve your goal. In our sport, the most important thing is hard work. For success, you need to work hard and dream. We have our own world-class team, there are continental teams, there is a center for Olympic training, where juniors train. That is, there is a large base for growth in this direction, the rest depends on the person himself. I will say that now it is much easier to get into the team than it was in the 2000s. Alexander Vinokurov, Andrei Kivilev made their way through European tournaments, which is much harder.
- A bit away from the topic of professional cycling, I would like to know your opinion about the popularization of the bicycle as a transport in our country. More and more people in our country are transplanted to bicycles, what is the reason for this and what can it lead to, in your opinion?
- It's great that people have such a hobby. Lead, they breathe more fresh air, temper their health. In many cities, especially in Almaty, a bicycle would be an excellent transport, because the roads are increasingly loaded. In addition, because of a large number of cars, there is a lot of gas in the city and nothing to breathe, it would positively affect the ecological side of the city. I see that in Astana and Almaty, cycling is done. This is a very good practice, which is actively used in Europe. There, people on weekends just spend their time and dedicate it to cycling. It's not necessary to be a professional cyclist, you can just ride your bike for yourself. In Kazakhstan, there are many different bike rides for residents of our cities, and it's wonderful. I am very glad that now in the country there is a popularization of our sport, I see in this only the pluses. It's good for the whole sport as well as for the people themselves who, with the help of a bicycle, are attached to a healthy lifestyle. It is worth a try once, and it's hard to refuse from a bicycle. It's great that more and more adults are trying to lead a healthy lifestyle - their children, seeing this, will take their example and join in the sport.
- If, nevertheless, the child wants to be engaged in cycling professionally, how important is the bicycle model at that age? Can you say that if someone's parents can afford to buy a more expensive and high-quality bicycle, then this child will have more chances to achieve success in the future? Does it all depend more on the child?
- Of course, the bike models differ among themselves, in adolescence you want to have all the "coolest" ones. Time does not stand still, and one innovation always replaces the other, this is technological progress. But, nevertheless, success depends largely on the other - whatever your bike is, you should keep an eye on him, take care of him, keep him in good condition. It can not be asserted that the future successes of a young athlete depend on the model of a bicycle, first of all, the matter in himself. Many talented guys from Kazakhstan, seriously keen on cycling, from simple families. And their capabilities do not exceed the capabilities of others in the material plan. Now in cycling, children are involved in the provision of all the necessary equipment, so the chances of all are equal. The paramount importance is played by the desire and diligence of the child, then how he sets himself the goal and achieves it. Without this young athlete will not help the most "ultramodern" bicycle. And it's very important that there is a good coach who will guide the children in the right direction. For example, we did not previously have a rear derailleur, nor was there a front wheel - there were a simple bicycle and a great desire to show a good result. You move step by step, and you understand - the better you go and show the character, the higher your achievements become. Until now, the principle is working - the better I work, the more I get.
- Moving away from the topic of bicycles, I can not ask you about another sport. In September in Las Vegas, there was a "fight of the decade," as it is called by many, with the participation of our boxer Gennady Golovkin. How do you think, is the final draw result logically?
- Unfortunately, I could not see the whole fight in a live broadcast, although I really wanted it. I heard that many experts on Golovkin's side say that he won. My opinion - in the ring two real champions came together. But there should not be a draw, there must be a winner and a loser. The whole point of the sport is this. The champion must always be one. Of course, I was rooting for GGG, but professional boxing is a big business. And for anybody, it's not a secret. Here a lot of money is circulating, and therefore nothing should be surprising.
- Thank you for the interview!
Translated by Akhan Tuleshov