Abdoujaparov, now 50 years old, was regarded by many as the best sprinter of his era, and clocked up a total of nine Tour de France stages plus the points classification in each of the Grand Tours.
However he also had a reputation as a rider who was dangerous, a perception reinforced by his famous crash in the 1991 Tour when he rode into the barriers on the finishing straight of the Champs Elysees. He also earned a different sort of reputation when he failed a number of doping tests in 1997, his final pro year.
CyclingTips: What’s your impression been of the racing in Azerbaijan this week?
My impression is of a week-long sporting festival. It’s really nice, the people are rejoicing and I’ve seen the passion of the people for this sport and I only wish that it would never end!
CT: What have you been up to since you retired from cycling?
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov: I’m still in cycling. I go to a lot of races around the world where I’m invited as a guest of honour and I really enjoy this. I also tried to be a coach, to have my own team but, you know, I’m an old-school cyclist and it doesn’t fit well with the new school. And I don’t want to change because I think the old school is better. So I’m still waiting for my moment — it might still come to fruition that I have my own team but not as yet.
What are some of the differences between the old-school and the new-school, in terms of sprinting? What’s changed since your time?
DA: Well sprinting tactics haven’t changed much but what has changed significantly is the level of autonomy of the riders during the race. Now, with race radios, they all listen to tips from the coaches and there is less independence and spontaneity in the race. Before it was much more unpredictable and interesting because riders themselves had to be good tacticians — you had no-one to rely on, you had to think with your own mind. Now he’s just relying on what he’s hearing in his ear. If something goes wrong — maybe the radio goes bad — then he’s lost. The old school was different and I think it was better.
CT: Are there sprinters today that remind you of yourself, with that ability to read the race rather than simply listening to instructions?
DA: No, not really. Maybe Cavendish — but to a very little degree — because he looks like he’s a bit more lively. I say “lively” purposefully because the riders now, to me they look like robots. There is a life after cycling. If these people blindly follow their coach all the time, every stage, year after year, after 30 when they retire will they still wait for the coach to tell them what to do? We have to be autonomous or spontaneous in our lives. Maybe that is what I miss in modern day cycling very much.
CT: Does that make it hard for you to watch and enjoy sprinting today? Or are there sprinters you enjoy watching?
DA: I always enjoy a good fight, and if there is fight then it’s enjoyable. If you have a [lead-out] train where the people are being set up in position you only need to hammer it at the end, but during the race you don’t have to work very hard. You are being protected from the left and right. In my time we were doing everything ourselves. Of course there was still some kind of team tactics but it wasn’t developed to this level and so we had to do a lot of things ourselves. There was winds from right, winds from the left, we were fighting for position. Now it’s almost automatic and that’s not enjoyable to me anymore, it really detracts from the joy of watching cycling. So whenever there is a different approach, then I like it. I like more spontaneous races.
CT: If you had to sprint against Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel in your prime, who would win?
(Without hesitation and with a hand motion like swatting a fly)
DA: I would be able to pick off any of them. All of them. No problem.
CT: Do you think we’re seeing a cleaner sport now than we did in the last 10-15 years?
DA: Difficult for me to say. I just don’t follow these things so I don’t know exactly what’s happening. It looks to me like either it is too clean, which is good, or it’s too sophisticated. It’s the same thing, and everything is developing. Maybe team chemistry [ed. I took this to mean sports science] is developing in different ways so I don’t know. The speeds are very high, that’s for sure, but I don’t know if that’s due to better training or something else.
CT: Are you still riding your bike?
Yes, for myself. On bicycle lanes I do it of course all the time but not on the road. When I was riding on the road [during my career] there were very few cars on the road. Now there’s too many cars and I don’t enjoy it any more. Bicycle lanes are fine for my own enjoyment.