Vasil Kiryienka’s bronze medal in the World Championships yesterday in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, helped him along his journey. It began in the shadow of Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor, included a couple of important mountain stages and continues with team Sky next season.
“It’s a surprise to be on the podium, for sure, but it was my dream,” the Belarusian said yesterday after time trialling to third behind winner Tony Martin (Germany). “I worked very hard to achieve it.”
The 31-year-old popped up on our radar during the Giro d’Italia, winning mountain stages in 2008 and last year to Sestrière. To win the stage to Sestrière, he attacked on the gavel road over the Colle delle Finestre and rode solo to the finish.
It was part of a long journey for the rider who grew up in Rechytsa, over the border from Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Rechytsa sits 130km north and links with Chernobyl via rivers.
Rumour spread last year that his mum, dad and brother died because of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. His brother is still alive. His dad died of radioactive-related illness and his mum of liver cancer. “But people die of this all the time,” he said of his mum. “I go in for check ups all the time, but nothing has ever shown.”
After racing and living in Italy with team Tinkoff, he moved to Pamplona, Spain, when joining Caisse d’Epargne/Movistar. His wife and children still live in Rechytsa. He said, “You think I’d accept that if I thought it was dangerous?”
Sky kept watch on Kiryienka and offered a three-year contract to race alongside its Grand Tour stars, Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome. Its decision was confirmed by his ride yesterday. Though he was over a minute and a half behind Tony Martin and Taylor Phinney (USA), he held off some big names, including Alberto Contador (Spain) and Tejay Van Garderen (USA).
Besides sixth overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné this year, one must also remember that he had placed twice in the top ten in the Worlds TT and in 2006 at the Track Worlds, took the bronze medal in the points race.
“The medal is great for my career, but I have to thank my current team, Movistar. During the last four years, they treated me very well and gave me the possibility to do my job,” Kiryienka said yesterday.
He assumed that Wiggins and Froome watched his ride and that he explained would improve his English ahead of next year. He speaks in Spanish, as he did during yesterday’s press conference, but is also comfortable speaking in Italian.
“I guess they were watching. I’m moving to their team and so I think that they’ll be happy with result because it’s important for them to know they have signed a good team-mate.”