Some time ago, I started a series on Soviet peloton’s nicknames. Abdoujaparov was the obvious first choice – he is, without a doubt, the most famous Soviet rider who made a name for himself in pro peloton. Next in line, and again, for obvious reasons, is Sergei Soukhoruchenkov (or Sergueï Soukhoroutchenkov as the French preferred to spell his name) – the most famous Soviet rider of an era when amateurs and professionals were separated by two different governing bodies. Soukhoruchenkov was the subject of my post a few days ago and this post is a follow up while the topic is fresh on my mind.
Also Known As
Soviet riders’ nicknames made up by Westerners were always different to the nicknames used in the Soviet peloton. The Western version was just a contraction of the rider’s surname – Eki for Ekimov, Abdou for Abdoujaparov or Soukho for Soukhoruchenkov. Tchmil was an exception because his surname is too short to take any letters away, and, unlike Soukhoruchenkov, not too difficult to pronounce.
Although most of the original Soviet nicknames were derived from surnames too, they always had some definite meaning attached to them, sometimes even an array of meanings such is the case with Soukhoruchenkov whose Soviet nickname was Сухарь (Soukhar).
Soukhoruchenkov’s surname is made up of two words with roots in сухой (soukhoi – dry) and рука (rouka – an arm). The nickname, Сухарь, was derived from the first part of his surname. Сухарь is a rare Russian word in that it has only one meaning – dry bread, the kind of bread that becomes hard if left in the open for several days.
The nickname was perfect for Soukhoruchenkov on more than one level. For example, сушиться, or “getting dry”, is a Russian cycling slang for “getting lean” and Soukhar was as lean and dry as dry bread – Сухарь indeed.
Just like dry bread, the guy was hard too; hard as in “hard rider” and also hard as in “not easy to break”. He was legendary for training in all and any conditions. A story was going around how he defied Kapitonov’s decision to cut short a 6 hour ride because of cold weather and continued on riding after everyone else turned back. Thing was – Kapitonov almost never cut short training rides no matter how bad the weather was, and, more importantly, nobody ever was crazy enough to defy Kapitonov’s orders. This wasn’t an act of a rebel though – Soukhar set his mind on doing a 6 hour ride that day and he didn’t see why it had to be cut short, so he just went on doing what he had planned to do in the morning.
He raced in a similar style too. If he set his mind on going to attack somewhere, it didn’t matter what else was going on around him; he would patiently wait for the right moment and strike with demoralising fury. Winning solo was his signature – he liked to be alone on the road.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know Soukhar very well. When I showed up at my first training camp with the national team at the end of 1984, Soukhar wasn’t there. This was surprising because he was the then current Peace Race winner and I was looking forward to train with him in Sochi where the national team traditionally spent the winter months. I was too scared to ask anyone where Soukhar was – a nobody 18 years old wouldn’t be casually asking cycling dignitaries where the king of Soviet road cycling was; bad manners. Stranger still, when he was spoken of, at a dinner table or sauna (the best battle stories were told in sauna), I had a feeling he was spoken of as if he had retired or was out of the picture, at least for now. Some were saying his relationship with Kapitonov had become too tense for Kapitonov to have him on the team while others said he couldn’t be bothered racing anymore. Whatever the reason was, it was very unusual for a rider of Soukhar’s caliber not to be with the national team, especially in 1985 when Peace Race was scheduled to visit Moscow for the first and only time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat. The Peace Race that year was taken very seriously in Kremlin and Soukhar’s absence was hard to explain.
He reappeared some time later with the Soviet Army’s ЦСКА team (as most top Soviet riders were, Soukhar was an army officer) but he wasn’t the same Soukhar everybody knew and remembered. In 1987 he finished 2nd behind Konyshev at the national stage race championship, a race he won in 1978. When the Soviet cycling federation made a deal with Alfa Lum in 1988 to supply a full roster of Soviet riders to race in pro ranks, Soukhar, who would turn 33 in 1989, was among them, mostly for branding purposes (he was very popular in Italy) than results.
As many have expected, Soukhar’s professional career didn’t last long – he retired in 1990. Soukhar being Soukhar, managed to win Tour of Chile anyway the same year he retired.