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Polish rider targets top10 placing and hopes to improve last year's result
Rafał Majka has been named one of the Tinkoff-Saxo team's leaders and will line up along Nicolas Roche in today's opening team time trial of the 97th Giro d'Italia. Polish rider starts his second Corsa Rosa and is targeting the general classification, hoping to play a part in the race and fight for maglia bianca.
Majka looks relaxed before team presentation, as Tinkoff-Saxo team enteres busy hall of Belfast City Council headquaters, at Dongall Square, where riders await the ceremony. He is about to start his second Giro d'Italia and this year he finally has somebody to talk to in his mother tongue, as neo-pro Paweł Poljański is also pinning the race number. Both climbers need to speak English, however - with Oleg Tinkov now in charge of the team, riders are expected to communicate in Shakespeare's language.
Building-up towards Giro
Majka started the season resonably late, taking part in Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. Participation in Volta a Catalunya was crossed off his schedule after elbow injury sustained on the final stage of Race to the Sun. Instead, he rode Criterium International, winning best young rider jersey and placing 4th overall.
With Tour de Romandie as the last checkpoint before Italian Grand Tour, Majka was looking forward to finish his preparations with a strong accent. Crash on stage 3 saw him struggling to rejoin the group of main contenders and resulted in a place outside top10.
I think I'm in good shape. It's getting better since Romandie. I had a crash and I wasn't feeling too well in general, because I came to Switzerland straight after altitude camp. But now legs are getting better. Of course, the third week is the most important and you have to stay as fresh as you only can. So I'm optimistic
- Majka said before team presentation in Belfast.
Rider from Zegartowice trained at altitude in early April, for the second year in a row choosing Mount Etna as the training venue. He knows that the biggest mountains are to come at the very end of the race and that he has to manage his effort. Training in Italy on a daily basis, he has already ridden or inspected most of the climbs, but there are some exceptions.
Third week is the most important, we are doing a lot of climbing. I did the recons of Gavia and Stelvio. I have never ridden Zoncolan but I know it's hard, like Angliru.
Last year, before heading to Naples, Majka raced only for 12 days. This year, he signs the list with 21 days of racing in the first months of the year, but it's not the number that decides the final outcome.
This year I also raced more and didn't have any serious injuries. Ok, I had this issue with elbow, after Paris-Nice, but I was still able to train and prepare to Giro
- he recalls.
This year 24-year-old Pole shares captain role with Nicolas Roche. For 29-year-old the start in home country is a special moment and Irishman is expecting to finish among race's best riders in Trieste. Majka, although not really keen on Irish part of the race, is happy to have a strong overall contender on a team. He said:
I think Nicolas is very strong and that's good. We can help each other - if he attacks, rivals will have to chase him and I can sit on their wheel and counter. And vice-versa - when I attack, he can counter. We have a strong team, with some experienced riders like Michael Rogers, that's vital. We are riding as a team and winning as a team.
This year, Ireland is hosting the opening of the race. A climber, Majka is not particularly happy about that, as rain, nervousness in the bunch and narrow roads are not exactly what he considers to be a good start of the race.
I have to be focused and stay at the front all the time. Team time trial is the key - there are nine of us, with weather conditions like this we have to avoid making mistakes and crashing on a slippery roads. I have ridden the last 40 kilometers of stage 2, the road is quite wide, we just have to stay at the front.
Power and ambitions
Riding a Grand Tour is not only about climbing, however. This year, apart from opening team time trial, there are two battles against a clock, with a hilly 41.9km time trial, leading riders through wine country of Piedmont, and mountain time trial looming on the horizon in the third week of the race. Last year, having finished 4th overall in Tour de Pologne, Polish rider declared that improving his time trialling skills will be his key focus during the winter.
Of course, I can see the progress. I cannot tell you the exact numbers, but yes, there are more watts this year, when you look at the data. I think I have improved. It was not bad in Romandie, here at the Giro we have 41 kilometers of time trial and it's not a flat one. It's better for me, if the route is hilly, it suits me better
- Majka stressed, answering questions about time trial performance.
He smiles when we ask about final fight against the clock, on the steep slopes of Monte Grappa.
Majka's 7th place in Giro d'Italia last year came as confirmation of his potential, but today, with four three-week races finished and a lot of experience gained over the last year, he is confident that he has a real chance of doing better than last year. Top 10 result is a goal for both him and his Irish teammate.
I think I can do better than last year. I am prepared and motivated, I was training for this race and I won't give up. We will take the race day-by-day. I came here to fight for top places, so I cannot be afraid of any mountain. I have to give it everything I have, fight for 21 days. I know that it's going to be hard, a moment of crisis may come, but I won't give up. Not even for a second. This is the goal of the season and I have to be focused.