An interview with Roman Kreuziger, November 29, 2008
Winner of the Tour of Switzerland, 13th overall and runner up in the best young rider competition at his first Tour de France, Roman Kreuziger is one of the most promising prospects of the next decade. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet spoke with the 22-year-old in his home town of Pilsen, Czech Republic.
Born in May 1986 in Moravska Trebova, in the north of the Czech Republic, Roman Kreuziger has already stamped his mark on the Tour de France at an age where most riders are vying to succeed in the under-23 ranks.
Kreuziger confirmed his ascension to the upper echelon of the elite ranks when he dropped Cadel Evans, then in the yellow jersey, on the climb to Prato Nevoso on the stage 16 . The effort earned him the white jersey which he was able to show to his parents when they visited him at the Tour.
"Riccò didn't understand that the time had come for a change." -Kreuziger speaks about the mentality that saw Riccardo Ricco suspended for doping.
That day he actually took the jersey for best young rider from the shoulders of friend and teammate Vincenzo Nibali, who also represents Liquigas' sporting future. Kreuziger doesn't just speak for himself when he recalls how bravely he and the young Italian battled on the roads of France.
"We thought we could win the best young rider classification, either he or myself," Kreuziger says while drinking a non-alcoholic beer at the famous Restaurace Na Spilce inside the brewery of Pilsner Urquell, in Pilsen. "But Andy Schleck proved himself to be better than us in the climbs during the following stages. It was a big eye-opener for me. Now I know where I have to improve. The climbs in France are much longer than the ones I experienced previously. I need to build stronger foundations to be able to sustain efforts and intensities that last one and a half hours, not only half an hour."
Kreuziger is actually better known as a time triallist than a climber. He finished second in the prologue of the 2007 Paris-Nice behind David Millar but his true speciality is the uphill time trial. It formed the platform for his victory at this year's Tour de Suisse in addition to a second overall in the Tour de Romandie. "I don't race much," he explains. "As I'm still young, I don't ride in competition for more than 65 days a year, but I always compete in high-level events and I also don't go to a race for training... only with the aim of performing. I'm never happy with myself. I always want to do better."
"Nibali and I, we motivate each other. Our grinta [determination] is contagious," says Kreuziger. The duo went to the Tour of Missouri in September after defending the colours of their respective countries at the Beijing Olympics. "In the US I realised I'd better introduce myself as the guy who came 13th at the Tour de France rather than the winner of the Tour of Switzerland," he added, feeling a bit sad for the major race of the country that welcomed him when he was a teenager. "Between the age of 15 and 18, every school holiday I went to Switzerland to race. That's where I learned German, the language I now use to communicate with Andy Schleck, for example. I went to Switzerland because I couldn't legally race in Italy at that age."
But the young Czech knew in which country he wanted to build his cycling career when he became the junior world champion in Verona in 2004. He also ran second in the time trial, the same placing he took at the cyclo-cross world's that year, where only Belgian Niels Albert was able to beat him. Cyclo-cross is actually in Kreuziger's blood as Roman Kreuziger, Sr. - his father - was a bronze medallist at the 1987 world's on his home turf in Mlada Boleslav.
"I haven't experienced anything of the Communist system myself," Kreuziger says with a large smile in relation to his father's generation, which lived and raced under different circumstances. "I have only heard of people queuing for oranges, bananas, blue jeans, etc, with no guarantee that any were available to buy. My generation has been used to too many good things, maybe. We are real Europeans in that regard."
Times change, however, and Pilsen - only half an hour away from Germany - is now part of the Czech Republic and ready to adopt the euro currency by 2010, although it is still steeped in the tradition of cyclo-cross. Kreuziger explains, "We'll have the world championships here again next year [in Tabor] and I'm thinking of taking a break after the Tour de France to do one season in cyclo-cross again, with the world championship as my main goal."
Liquigas' talented young Czech enjoys the winter atmosphere at home. "My family also has a house an hour from here in the mountains... and my other favourite sports are cross-country skiing and ice-hockey. I don't often come back to the Czech Republic [during the season] but always in November, and for Christmas."
Since becoming junior world champion in Verona, he has made the city of Bardolino, on Lago di Garda, his home. "I love that place," he says. "Even during the winter time I never get sick of admiring the surroundings while I go training. When the snow comes in Pilsen, it never stays more than two days on the road but the temperature stays between 2°C and 8°C - it's not very convenient for training."
Now totally integrated in the Italian cycling community, Kreuziger revealed, "Nibali and I have signed for Liquigas until 2010." And he doesn't see any conflict between their high ambitions as youngsters and the comeback of Ivan Basso. "That will keep the journalists busy!" he says with a wry laugh. "And we might not do the same races. Basso will target the Tour of Italy, Nibali and I will do the Tour de France again."
Kreuziger rode his first Tour de France with the smiley "I'm doping free" tattooed on his left arm - the same message carried by Damiano Cunego. It was actually an idea of the riders' agent, Alex Carrera. Kreuziger easily describes himself as being anti-Riccardo Riccò. "I already disliked him before; he had too big a mouth but after he got caught, how can people believe that we ride on bread and water? Riccò didn't understand that the time had come for a change. He was still living with the mentality of the old riders.
"As for myself, I cycle for the love of the sport, I don't need to make a living of it. Financially, our family is fine." The Kreuzigers are reported to be quite wealthy, which means that the second-best young rider of the 2008 Tour de France isn't desperate to succeed for financial reasons. That doesn't mean he doesn't have high ambitions. He's got a strong character and a bright future. "But it's every rider's dream to win a Grand Tour, isn't it?," he asks, inviting us to watch his continued rise up the professional ranks.