Forty years ago, the Soviet Sergey Sukhoruchenkov, the future olympic champion of Moscow, accomplished the only Tour de l’Avenir – Peace Race double in history. However, he should have never participated in this Peace Race because of an act considered “individualistic” by his management. But the sickness of a teammate the day before the start changed the situation...
Sukhoruchenkov on the podium of the 1979 Peace Race.
© Neue Berliner Illustrierte / Wolfgang Bebrendt
At the turn of the 1970s-80s, Soviet cycling was experiencing one of its strongest periods in its history and completely dominated the amateur cycling world. The USSR was unbeatable in the Peace Race where it captured the individual classification between 1977 and 1981 and the team classification between 1975 and 1981. Above all, the men in red won for the first time, in September 1978, the Tour de l’Avenir, which was meant to be inaccessible for them in view of its mountainous route. With Sukhoruchenkov at the top, the USSR even crushed the field by getting the first four positions on GC!
The Giro delle Regioni incident
In April 1979, for preparing the Peace Race contested in May, the directeur sportif of the Soviet selections Viktor Kapitonov brought his team on the Circuit de la Sarthe open in France, and then on the Giro delle Regioni in Italy. He chose an almost identical team to the one from the Tour de l’Avenir ’78. At the Giro delle Regioni, the Soviets were easily ahead of everyone and made a clean sweep of all the eight stages and half-stages as well as the team prologue. However, an event was going to break the serenity of the selection...
On the eve of the finish, the general classification was as follows:
1. Alexandr Averin
2. Said Guseynov at 1’47’’
3. Ronny Claes (BEL) at 2’24’’
4. Sergey Nikitenko at 3’08’’
9. Sergey Sukhoruchenkov at 4’30’’
Averin seemed to have won the race. Though, according to his usual tactics of “always more”, Kapitonov was not content with it and exhorted his riders to do what needed to be done in order to eject Claes from the podium during the last two half-stages. In the 102km first half-stage, between La Spezia and Livorno, Sukhoruchenkov followed the orders and attacked from the km 5. He was joined by four riders including his teammate Sergey Morozov. Twenty-five kilometres later, in the Carrara climb, the only listed one in the mountain competition, “Sukho” went for another shot and took the lead alone. There were 70 kilometres left and the wind was blowing strongly. His undertaking seemed doomed, especially as the opposing team were cooperating in the pack to bring the lonely man to reason. Nevertheless, Sukhoruchenkov did not weaken at all and the gap was still growing! The unthinkable happened: “Sukho” won the stage with a 4 min 26 s lead and, thanks to the bonuses, stole the Brooklyn leader jersey of Averin for 35 seconds!
Therefore, the display of force of “Sukho” raised questions. Was he intending to dethrone his own teammate? “It was in the plans that I attack, responded the interested party. But I certainly did not think I would gain all those minutes. I was not aiming for the jersey, I was only trying to dislodge the Belgian Claes from the third place.” Doubts were nevertheless present.
The second half-stage was organised as a 45-kilometre criterium in the streets of Livorno. Anticipating the fight of the favourites, Sergey Nikitenko did the job away at the front by winning the stage and outstripping in his turn Ronny Claes in the general classification. He was the last Soviet who had not won a stage in this Giro. Behind, the battle raged. Averin was trying to take back his property but “Sukho” did not allow him and was resisting. Averin still managed to break clear with a group of four riders and took back 29 secondes to the leader... Insufficient to recover the Brooklyn jersey which remained definitively on the shoulders of Sukhoruchenkov for six seconds!
Beyond this battle which left its mark on the team, the goals of Viktor Kapitonov have been achieved and even exceeded for the final general classification:
1. Sergey Sukhoruchenkov, 984 km in 23h 06’ 23’’ (42,6 km/h)
2. Alexandr Averin at 6’’
3. Sergey Nikitenko at 2’07’’
4. Said Guseynov at 2’13’’
5. Ronny Claes (BEL) at 2’50’’
« Sukho » receiving the kiss of the winner at the finish of the Giro delle Regioni. © L’Unità
The sanction and the unexpected turn
One week prior to the start of the Peace Race in Prague, the Soviet management was left embarrassed by the behaviour of “Sukho” that it considered “individualistic”. The sanction eventually came: Sukhoruchenkov was replaced by Ramazan Galyaletdinov who had shined with the reserve team in preparation races in Czechoslovakia. The winner of the Giro delle Regioni and of the last Tour de l’Avenir found himself as a substitute! This left him staying on-site before the start as he was going to participate in case of a last-minute withdrawal. On the morning of the day before the race, the cyclist from Bryansk was driven to the Prague airport to get back to Moscow. At the same time, however, Sergey Morozov woke up sick: he was suffering from a dental abscess and had to withdraw! A car was sent urgently to pick up Sukhoruchenkov at the airport. The cycling champion was intercepted at the very last moment while he was already on the plane!
The 1979 Peace Race
May 9th to 24th, 1979
Prague – Warsaw – Berlin
13 stages, including the 7th divided in two sections, and a prologue for a total of 1942 km
19 teams of 6 riders maximum (112 starters)
The Soviet selection
13. Sergey Sukhoruchenkov (Armed Forces, Kuybyshev)
14. Alexandr Averin (Armed Forces, Kuybyshev)
15. Aavo Pikkuus (Dynamo, Tartu)
16. Sergey Nikitenko (Armed Forces, Kuybyshev)
17. Said Guseynov (Dynamo, Dushanbe)
18. Ramazan Galyaletdinov (Armed Forces, Kuybyshev)
« Sukho » made the break in Czechoslovakia
The 1979 Peace Race started with the hilly stages of Czechoslovakia. The first highlight happened during the 137 km fourth stage, between Dubnica and Banská Bystrica. The peloton firstly thinned in the Homolka climb at the km 21. Then at the km 47, in the Strážov climb, seven riders broke clear: the Soviets Sukhoruchenkov and Nikitenko, the Bulgarians Fortunov and Staykov, the German Hartnick, the Belgian Jochums and the Polish Walczak. The last mentioned was dropped a few time later. Among the big teams, the selections of Czechoslovakia and Poland were not represented. But they did not manage to control the breakaway, so much that the gap increased rapidly up to seven minutes! Impressive in the several difficulties of the day, “Sukho” logically slipped clear with about 30 kilometres to go. He won with a 3 min 50 s advantage over his erstwhile companions, and 5 min 12 s over the peloton. He had made the break and wore his first yellow jersey of the competition.
Sukhoruchenkov alone in the lead in the 4th stage. © Facebook page of Sergey Sukhoruchenkov
Firmly in the lead in the general classification, Sukhoruchenkov was imperious the day after, between Pohronská Polhora and Košice, to retain his jersey. First of all, he resisted a near-general offensive of Poland’s team at the start of the stage, which had placed four out of fourteen men in the breakaway. Then “Sukho” counter-attacked this group 16 kilometres from the finish in the ascent of Jahodná, to succeed again alone finishing fifteen seconds before the other escapees. He was then leading his first contender in the overall, the Bulgarian Staykov, by four minutes. The Soviet since took a stranglehold on the yellow jersey with only flat stages and two time trials in Poland and Democratic Germany still left.
General classification after stage 5:
1. Sergey Sukhoruchenkov
2. Nencho Staykov (BUL) at 4’00’’
3. Mircea Romașcanu (ROU) at 4’44’’
Sukhoruchenkov mastered his major opponents
The next highlight occurred during the seventh stage divided in two sections. During the 29 km time trial of the morning, Naściszowa – Nowy Sącz, Sukhoruchenkov clearly again outpaced his opponents for the overall, only losing the stage by a mere 13 secondes against the German machine Bernd Drogan. Nencho Staykov lost 2 min 28 s and was dropped to fourth position in the general classification. The Polish Jan Jankiewicz, who had limited the damage, conceded 31 secondes to “Sukho” and climbed into the second place overall at 5 min 46 s. In the afternoon, between Nowy Sącz and Rzeszów, nine riders pulled away in the ultimate kilometres, among whom the yellow jersey wearer. While the Italian Luigi Trevellin won the stage, Sukhoruchenkov bagged 41 additional seconds to his lead.
General classification after stage 7:
1. Sergey Sukhoruchenkov
2. Jan Jankiewicz (POL) at 6’27’’
3. Krzysztof Sujka (POL) at 7’09’’
The last time trial was organised the day before the finish in Neubrandenburg on a 32km course. Drogan doubled up with another blistering win at 49.665 km/h, record of the race. Sukhoruchenkov finished ninth, 1 min 25 s down. Jankiewicz was a further fifteen seconds back. The German Andreas Petermann, second of the stage, moved up to second place in the GC as well at 6 min 17 s of “Sukho”.
In the last stage in direction of Berlin, led at high speed, “Sukho” overcame a last warning following a puncture. Averin, not resentful after the Giro delle Regioni incident, handed him his bike. But the Soviet side is in a bit of a panic with Pikkuus also puncturing, because at the front, the teams of Poland, GDR and Czechoslovakia joined forces to try to distance the yellow jersey. Assisted by teammates who sacrificed themselves as they could, “Sukho” found himself chasing in a third peloton. Then he caught a second peloton, before eventually making the junction with the head of the race, and everything was put in order.
The lucky number 13 of Sukhoruchenkov. © Miroir du Cyclisme
En route to the Olympic title despite conflicts
While he should not have participated in the race, Sergey Sukhoruchenkov became thus the first rider ever to achieve the Tour de l’Avenir – Peace Race double in history. This feat has never been done again. He was to win the Tour de l’Avenir again in September 1979 becoming, here also, the first double winner of the “Tour de France of the amateurs”, a performance never renewed since. Despite his performances that earned him the title of “amateur cyclist of the year” awarded by L’Equipe, Sukhoruchenkov was once again lined up as a substitute, and so non-starter, for the world championship in Valkenburg following a dispute with an official of the USSR Sports Committee.
Viktor Kapitonov did not want initially to line him up for the Moscow Olympics and hid behind a technical argument: “This is not a circuit for Sukhoruchenkov. He is a rider who rolls up. However, it will be necessary to relaunch the gear continuously. I see in the first place Averin and Nikitenko, the sprinters, who are also sufficiently complete riders!” Nonetheless, “Sukho” had made himself unavoidable during the last Soviet all-union preparation race on the Olympic circuit of Krylatskoye (as part of the USSR Cup), where he won after a 40km solo breakaway with a 2 min 23 s lead. Kapitonov could not say a word anymore. Sukhoruchenkov was selected and won the gold medal... with a solo breakaway of course.
Results from the 1979 Peace Race
Stages won by : Jan Jankiewicz (POL) (prologue), Nencho Staykov (BUL), Michal Klasa (TCH), M.Klasa, Sergey Sukhoruchenkov, S.Sukhoruchenkov, Walter Clivati (ITA), Bernd Drogan (GDR) (time-trial), Luigi Trevellin (ITA), Krzysztof Sujka (POL), K.Sujka, Domenico Perani (ITA), Benjamin Vermeulen (BEL), B.Drogan (time-trial), B.Drogan.
Final general classification:
1. Sergey Sukhoruchenkov in 47h 03’ 56’’ (41,2 km/h)
2. Andreas Petermann (GDR) at 6’27’’
3. Krzysztof Sujka (POL) at 6’41’’
4. Jan Jankiewicz (POL) at 6’42’’
5. Aavo Pikkuus at 7’17’’
11. Ramazan Galyaletdinov at 10’19’’
16. Said Guseynov at 13’16’’
28. Alexandr Averine at 20’40’’
32. Sergey Nikitenko at 23’46’’
87 classified riders.
1. Soviet Union in 141h 25’10’’
2. Poland at 6’15’’
3. East Germany at 10’48’’
4. Czechoslovakia at 17’58’’
5. Bulgaria at 20’44’’
Mountains: Sergey Sukhoruchenkov
Combativity: Jan Jankiewicz (POL)
Points: Aavo Pikkuus
Archives from the newspapers L’Unità, L’Humanité, Rudé právo and Sovetski Sport, and from the magazines Vélo and Miroir du Cyclisme.
TUSZYNSKI, Bogdan and MARSZALEK, Daniel, Wyścig Pokoju 1948-2001, Fundacja Dobrej Książki, 2002.
Thanks to Ramazan Galyaletdinov for his answers.