Kroon: 'Pressure doesn't affect me, it never did'

There's only one classic in Holland and that's the Amstel Gold Race. So if you're a Dutch cyclist,...

An interview with Karsten Kroon, April 22, 2007

With his Dutch counterparts retiring one-by-one, Team CSC's Karsten Kroon is quickly gaining the support of fans in his homeland. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé sat down with Kroon in Maastricht to discuss his chances of taking victory in today's Amstel Gold Race.

There's only one classic in Holland and that's the Amstel Gold Race. So if you're a Dutch cyclist, there's one race you definitely want to win. For the past ten years crowds have been supporting local heroes like Michael Boogerd and Erik Dekker. Dekker beat Lance Armstrong back in 2001 while Boogerd won in 1999, and also managed to finish on the podium on numerous occasions. A week before the 2007 edition of the Amstel Gold Race Boogie announced that it was his last year as a professional rider. With those two Dutch Rabobank heroes gone the crowds need a new hero and they don't need to look too far for that.

Dutch rider Karsten Kroon lives three kilometres away from the hotel in Lanaken where his Team CSC is located ahead of the Amstel Gold Race, which makes him the perfect rider for the locals to get behind. Among other names, Rabobank is believed to be considering Kroon as a possible transfer, which would see the Dutchman fill the position vacated by Boogerd. "I'm flattered, especially because it's Rabobank, but this is not the moment to think about this," pointed out Kroon. "My contract is expiring, but I'm only busy with the races."

Boogerd is riding his last Amstel Gold Race and as a result it's obvious that the crowds want to see their hero win his race one last time, but first he will have to get rid of compatriot Kroon. "I would like to grant Boogerd the victory, but that's just not possible," Kroon said to Cyclingnews. "I have the biggest respect for Michael and I would immediately sign for a palmarès like his. He has 51 wins and I have eight, that says enough."

"I need to win a big race in the not so distant future." -Kroon hopes to make that victory his home race in the Netherlands

"It would be an honour to become Holland's best rider in the classics," continued the 31 year-old. "I would be proud of that, even though I realize it would mean more pressure and attention. But I can tell you that pressure doesn't affect me, it never did."

The Dutchman transferred from The Netherland's Rabobank to Denmark's Team CSC in 2006, as he wanted to become a team leader. "It was cool to see the Rabobank train with Boogerd at rear end of the train... and then me," Kroon laughed. "Last year I wanted to show that I have elbows, now I hope to ride smarter and that might mean that I will not show myself before the ultimate climbs."

While riding at home this weekend, Kroon will not only focus on a great result. "I don't need to win, I think it's important to enjoy what we're doing so I'll enjoy that I'm allowed to battle for the victory," said a philosophical Kroon. "If that means suffering then sometimes you need to enjoy the moments you suffer." In those tough moments Kroon will surely receive enough support from the orange army on the pavements. "This is a home game for me and with the good weather there will be huge crowds, it'll be a bit like the Tour of Flanders," Kroon predicted.

Two weeks ago Kroon finished fourth in Flanders behind Ballan, Hoste and Paolini. From then on he took it easy to prepare for the Ardennes Classics. "Flanders and the Amstel are not so different, only the cobbles aren't featuring here but if you can cope well with the short climbs then you can excel in both races," he explained. "I think Boonen could win the Amstel Gold Race, just like Valverde could win Flanders, but they have to make a plan and if Boonen races Paris-Roubaix then the Amstel Gold Race isn't possible."

Last year Kroon finished fourth in Valkenburg after dominating the finale together with teammate Fränk Schleck, he most remarkable race move was an attack on the Eyserbosweg. The steep road is known to be the decisive point in the race as only the strongest guys can attack there; those who survive this selection can fight for the victory on the Cauberg. "Attacking on the Eyserbosweg was a great sensation, as all favourites were lined up near the front," Kroon said. "The climb gets steeper at the end so you can't go too early but halfway Bjärne [Riis] was shouting through the radio 'go!go!go!'. But I know the climb so I knew where to attack." Teammate Fränk Schleck eventually sneaked away and could solo to his first classic while being protected at the back by Kroon, who missed his chance of victory.

Schleck has shown good shape in Spain over the past week, so Kroon might be forced in a supportive role for the 27 year-old once again. "Last year wasn't a missed chance, as I prefer to have several candidates of the same quality then one sole team leader," he noted. "Last year I protected Fränk but things could be the opposite way this year." During Paris-Roubaix everybody could see that Team CSC's tactics were bothering its rivals, so Kroon gave an insight into its tactics for this weekend. "It would be logical that we use the same tactics like last year but we know more about that the night before the race," he confessed. "Following Boogerd can be a tactic which guarantees you a top-10 result but if you want to win you've got to take the initiative, like Fränk and I did last year."

It took the Dutchman five participations in the Amstel before he was able to fight for the victory on the Cauberg, even though he seemed to have all the qualities. Last year was the first time Kroon cracked the top-30, something which he says came down to improved consistency. "I've always been a good rider with some highlights but I was too irregular, I just couldn't deal with the distance," he explained. "Guys like Dekker, Boogerd and Leon Van Bon kept telling me that I only lacked the volume but that I would keep growing.

"The first time I coped with the distance was during the world championships of Verona," he continued. "Since then I could follow the leaders on the Kruisberg. I needed time before I could handle the distance, but some guys never reach that point. Anyway, I need to win a big race in the not so distant future but it won't be easy as the best riders of the world participate here Sometimes you need to be happy that you can at least battle for the victory."

As a local, there are few better than Kroon who can give an insight into who will be worth watching on this year's edition and he named Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval - Prodir) and world champion Paolo Bettini (Quickstep - Innergetic) as his favourites for the race. "Ricco will be there, but hopefully he won't be good enough just yet," Kroon joked.

Of course two riders missing from Kroon's list were Boogerd and himself. "We're both very motivated but I'm convinced that Fränk and Jens will be there as well. Freire? I don't think he can win the race. It's hard to tell who you will be follow during the race. If you're away with guys like them, you observe them and choose tactics based on those observations. The weather is not in my favour, as I prefer a demolishing race with cold weather, rain and wind. The Spanish and Italian guys are more used to this hot weather, although they enjoyed bad weather in the Basque country last week. I'm not afraid from the riders who raced there. There will be much more guys motivated as they believe they can still win the race.

"It's a demolishing race with much more hills than the once mentioned in the race book," Kroon explained. "I want to ride a good race with the team, and if that means I finish 20th while a teammate wins that's ok. I prefer to win myself. If things don't work out well in the Amstel then I hope to clinch the victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but my main goal is to become the Dutch winner in the only Dutch classic."

Kroon's closing statement clearly echoes what his goal for this week is: finally winning a classic.

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