The folk dancer who just won a national road cycling title
At the Israeli Road National Championships, the elite men’s road race tends to go a certain way. At some point, a small group will get off the front, stacked with riders from the Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN) WorldTour squad and its feeder team, the Continental-level Israel Cycling Academy (ICA). Then those riders will duke it out for the win.
That’s the way it’s gone every year since 2015 when the Israel Cycling Academy was first created*. Last weekend’s 2021 edition seemed destined to offer more of the same. But that’s not what happened.
This past Saturday, in the hills south west of Jerusalem, the 2021 Israeli championships played host to a great upset. The winner of the elite men’s road race: 26-year-old barista, Ukrainian expat, and former professional folk dancer, Vladislav “Vlad” Loginov.
(*The only edition of Israeli nationals ISN/ICA hasn’t won was that first year in 2015 when Guy Sagiv took the victory. He joined the team a few days later).
National Championships Israel - Road Race (NC) Beit Guvrin → Beit Guvrin
The race looked like it was following the usual script. Over five laps of a hilly 25 km circuit ISN and ICA riders were predictably prominent, and always threatening. A move from Saned Abu Fares (ICA) looked like it might be destined to stick with the 21-year-old leading solo into the final lap and a half. In the group behind, Loginov, racing for the 500Watt amateur team, was heavily outnumbered by Abu Fares’ Continental and WorldTour teammates.
But then Loginov made his move.
“As my coach Kenny Wilson suggested in pre-race advice, ‘When you will feel it right, when you see it right, go for it,’” Loginov told CyclingTips. And go for it he did.
“I waited [until] a downhill section as the peloton slowed down and here I chose my moment to attack,” Loginov said. “Two other riders tried to jump on my wheel, but on the uphill section I raised the speed to leave them behind, [and] I stayed alone for a full lap.”
Behind, Loginov’s ISN and ICA rivals were busy looking at one another, ultimately marking each other out of the race. Loginov had expected as much.
“I knew the four would ride tactically against each other and not cooperate – and that I could take advantage of that,” he said afterwards. “And that’s exactly what happened. I have immense respect for the professionals, but I [used] their rivalry to my advantage.”
Loginov bridged across to Abu Fares with half a lap to go. “We rode together until the final sprint, but I was feeling confident in my sprint and jumped for the finish with 150 m to go,” Loginov said.
His scream of joy as he crossed the finish line told the story – he’d just become the first rider in years to break the ISN/ICA stranglehold, as an amateur rider who’d only turned to cycling a few years earlier.
How did the sensational Israeli Nationals unfold?— Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy (@TeamIsraelSUN) June 19, 2021
FIRST scene: ICA’s Under-23 Druze rider Saned Abu Fares escapes.
SECOND: Amateur Vlad Ligionov surprises the ISN pro favorites, attacks and catches.
THIRD: The favorites can’t form an alliance to catch.
FOURTH: VLAD is the Champ! pic.twitter.com/95ZKIYdaPf
It’s a familiar tale in cycling: an athlete picking up the bike after transitioning from a different sport. You don’t have to look far in the professional peloton to find former runners or rowers; even sports like ski jumping and ski mountaineering are represented. But Loginov’s background as a professional folk dancer, in Odessa, Ukraine? That might just make him unique in cycling.
“I danced since I was seven years old,” he told the Elevation Coaching website in late 2020. “I was a professional in the theatre while I studied in a law academy and worked as a bartender. I didn’t have time for anything, just working like a motherf***ker.
“For five years I danced as a soloist of the philharmonic theatre, moving around a lot to Spain, France, Moldova. Maybe that’s why I’m able to push hard now [as a cyclist], because that school gave me a lot.
“Six hours of dancing a day is a good workout – I guess about 250 TSS [training stress score] a day!” [the equivalent of 2.5 hours spent riding at FTP – ed.]
Loginov gave up dancing professionally when he moved to Israel in 2017. “It wasn’t planned but I didn’t find perfect spot for me here to keep working as a professional dancer as I was dancing Ukrainian folk dance for years and obviously it doesn’t exist here in Israel,” he said. “So slowly slowly I had to change focus [to] something else to keep myself in shape and find a new passion. So I did [it with] cycling.”
Loginov took the plunge in late 2017, buying a bike during Black Friday sales. “I decided to buy a bike just because of the price, thinking ‘it looks good, it’s totally black, let’s try,’” he said. It wasn’t long before he was working his way up through the amateur ranks and showing considerable promise. In 2019 he won a ‘Masters’ national title – the category just below elite – and by 2020 he was competing with the best in the country.
At the 2020 Israeli road nationals Loginov competed in his first elite-level time trial. Riding on a borrowed bike, he finished third, behind only Guy Sagiv and Guy Niv, both of ISN, both Grand Tour finishers. That result caught the eye of ISN/ICA co-owner and financier Sylvan Adams, and earned Loginov a day of testing with the organisation.
A couple weeks later, in the Nationals road race, Loginov showed even more promise. An early attack from Niv was reeled in, leaving a select group out front: five ICN/ICA riders and Loginov. It was a preview of what was to come in the same race a year later.
In that 2020 race, though, Loginov’s inexperience worked against him. His attack with 2 km to go was quickly reeled in leaving Loginov wanting when Omer Goldstein (ISN), Eitan Levi (ICA) and Sagiv (ISN) surged past in the final sprint.
Goldstein won that day, but Loginov had turned heads. Including that of Adams, the most important man in Israeli cycling.
“On the last lap he was in the car and shouting ‘attack, attack, you are strong!’ To me! Not to his guys,” Loginov said. “I thought ‘He’s shouting for me? Oh my god, really?’ It gave me so much power, I was super stoked.”
Fast forward to this month. Loginov started his 2021 Nationals campaign with second place in the individual time trial, behind two-time winner Goldstein. And then it was on to the road race where he won against five ISN/ICA riders, from a similar situation to that of a year earlier. It’s no coincidence this year’s race turned out differently.
“Last year I started to train on the velodrome in a new track programme with coach Steve McEwen,” he explained to CyclingTips. “He taught me to ride clever and save energy when needed. I used the experience gained wisely this year, as it is something I definitely missed in last year’s Championships.”
After this breakthrough result, it’s no surprise Loginov is looking further ahead. He’d love to race as a professional.
“I worked hard for this victory and it gave me an opportunity to step up to the pro level,” Loginov said. “Yes, I’ve received a few phone calls with offers, but nothing official yet and I haven’t signed anything at present. So yes, I’m still open to offers, but I hope soon to be given the opportunity to step up to the next level.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Loginov join the ISN/ICA setup in some capacity from next year. We already know that he’s impressed Adams. On social media, the team was also complimentary about Loginov’s performance over the weekend.
Wherever he ends up racing, it’s clear from Loginov’s past life – and his road to becoming national champion – that he’s not afraid of hard work. And upstaging his more-fancied rivals this past weekend when so significantly outnumbered? That shows the sort of strength and tenacity that’s sure to win him plenty of fans.
And if cycling doesn’t work out for him, well, Loginov’s got plenty to fall back on. For starters, he hasn’t entirely given up his dancing. “I am still working in the theatres freelance,” he said. “Before COVID-19 it was my main job. And when all got shut down I found the [barista job] in the coffee shop as this is also my passion.” Consider too that he’s got a baby on the way and the future is looking pretty good for this professional dancer turned cycling champion.
“I’m extremely proud in becoming the Israeli national champion,” he said. “Naturally, it wouldn’t have happened without the constant support I get from my family, friends, and wife (mother-to-be), who is always by my side. I feel blessed.”
Thanks to VeloClub member Oren Dvoskin for the story idea and for the introduction to Vlad.