It was October 18. A month had passed since Lampre-Merida management told Ilia Koshevoy that they would not be renewing his contract for 2017. Despite his agent’s best efforts, no team was in touch with him. The Belarussian could see his professional cycling career slipping through his fingers.
So, Koshevoy took to Twitter. “I was desperate,” he says. “It was one evening, I didn’t know what else to do.” An infrequent user of the social media network, Koshevoy only had 1,700 followers, but remained hopeful.
“I thought ‘it’s 2016, and so many things happen through social media like Twitter these days. Perhaps it will help me.’”
I am searching for the team for 2017. Maybe some team can be interested in me? Retweet please guys!
— Koshevoy Ilia (@il_koshevoy) October 19, 2016
The 25-year-old woke up the next day to see that he had over 300 retweets. The number kept eventually rose to over 750. Cycling websites wrote articles, helping to publicise his quest further too.
Koshevoy was shocked. Subsequently, Professional Continental squad Cycling Academy and Continental outfit Torku got in touch with him. “I think this Twitter post gave me something,” he says.
In mid-November, his wait was over. Koshevoy signed a contract for 2017 with Wilier-Selle Italia, the Italian Pro Continental team headed by Filippo Pozzato. Ironically, he had already been in touch with them about opportunities before his Twitter message went viral.
Koshevoy turned pro with Lampre in 2015. Though Chinese company TJ Sport Investment acquired the team’s WorldTour license for next year, he was confident they would renew his contract. However, in mid-September, he received an e-mail bearing bad news from general manager Giuseppe Saronni in mid-September. No reason was given.
“I’d started to train for next year but I didn’t have a contract. I wasn’t certain of finding work,” Koshevoy says of the interim period. “Now I can relax.”
“I’m still young and I still feel that I have so much energy, I like this sport and job so much. And I think in these two years, I’ve done quite well.”
The Belarussian climber showed his ability, notably finishing second as a neo-pro at the 2015 Vuelta to Bert-Jan Lindeman on La Alpujarra (below) and fifth overall in this year’s Tour de San Luis, just behind stars Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez.
It was a rare opportunity to lead Lampre-Merida. As with many other talented young riders, Koshevoy was often put to work as a domestique and had few chances to show his worth.
“Obviously a neo-pro in a ProTour team can’t come into the squad and be captain. The majority of those two years, I had to work,” Koshevoy says.
“I was a bit sad to see that, doing everything well, I wasn’t able to find a squad. I said to myself that I had to try right to the bitter end to get something. Even if it meant doing a year at Continental level in the hope that I’d be able return to the professional stage: there are riders who have done that.”
New contract signed, Koshevoy is one of the lucky ones. His case is a microcosm for the squeezed professional cycling market. The loss of IAM Cycling and Tinkoff from the sport’s top tier has led to a slew of good riders competing for scarce places at professional teams.
Other young professionals, such as Giant-Alpecin pro Fredrik Ludvigsson, have used similar resourcefulness to make teams aware of their availability.
Still no contract for 2017, if you or you now a team who need a strong rider for 2017 please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org please
— Fredrik Ludvigsson (@Ludvigsson94) November 1, 2016
“I’m sorry when a good rider is left without a team – not because he’s incapable of doing his job, but just because there aren’t places available,” Koshevoy says.
“There are less and less spots every year. It’s perhaps a time of crisis,” he says. “How many squads were there in Italy ten years ago? Loads. Now, there will be four Professional ones [Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, Bardiani-CSF, Nippo-Vini Fantini and Wilier-Selle Italia], some Continental teams and that’s it.”
Koshevoy, who splits his time between La Spezia and Minsk, can now prepare his 2017 season in peace. He hopes his new squad will be invited to the hundredth Giro d’Italia, where he would love to win on regular training haunt, Mount Etna.
Now, the Belarussian’s only problem is fulfilling the potentially-expensive Twitter vow he made.
“A promise is a promise, so I’ve got to do it,” he joked. “I’ll be looking for a coffee sponsor now.”