After a series of strong performances in his first full season on the road, Jakob Fuglsang will start the Vuelta a España on Saturday with the intent of riding for a high position on general classification. The 24-year-old Saxo Bank rider's performances in the first half of the season have so impressed team management that Fuglsang's been given the green light - in his first Grand Tour - to see how he can perform over three weeks against the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso.
The young Dane has earned the confidence of Saxo Bank's directors through what has been a consistent and successful debut season. In June he finished sixth overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré after climbing strongly to the mountain-top finishes at Mont Ventoux and Saint-François-Longchamp. His accomplishments in France were mimicked soon afterwards with a stage and general classification win at the Tour of Slovenia, before a second consecutive overall win at his home Tour of Denmark, where he also claimed a stage victory.
"We talked about it from the beginning of the season that I would maybe do the Vuelta, but then maybe only do the first two weeks and then quit to prepare for the Worlds and for the last races of the season in Italy," Fuglsang told Cyclingnews. "But now that it went so well in the first part of the year, we decided that, if I wanted to, I could try to go for the overall [at the Vuelta] and see what I could do for the whole race. That's at least my goal for now, I want to do the whole race see if I can get a good result there. Maybe it will change during the race."
Fuglsang's pre-Vuelta preparation included training in Italy at his Lake Garda home, followed by the three-day Tour of Ireland where he finished in 10th place on general classification. He told Cyclingnews that he hasn't prepared any differently for his first Grand Tour as compared to his preparation for the Dauphiné Libéré, apart from a slight adjustment last week.
"My form's maybe not at 100 percent, but I'm close," Fuglsang said. "The week before the Tour of Ireland I was feeling less fresh and less strong so I had to take it easy. I would rather have done some really hard training but I wasn't really feeling like it. That's the only thing I can see that didn't go according to the plan, otherwise it's been good."
While Fuglsang had to endure wet and chilly conditions at the Tour of Ireland, he prefers riding in the heat and doesn't expect the traditionally high temperatures in Spain to be a problem. "I like the hot weather, as long as it's not getting to be too much. Maybe there'll be some days where I'll be suffering if the temperature goes too high, like 40 [degrees Celsius] or something. I spend most of my time in Italy at Lake Garda where we also have warm weather. The week before Ireland we had 40 degrees [Celsius] every day so I tried to get used to the heat."
Not only is a three-week Grand Tour a new experience for Fuglsang, most of the roads in Spain will be unfamiliar as well. He expects to be partnered with an experienced teammate to help him through day-by-day. "I don't know exactly who it's going to be. I'll probably room with someone with plenty of experience, it could be that I'll be rooming with Kurt-Asle Arvesen."
After the Vuelta, Fuglsang, a former U23 mountain bike world champion, will contest the road world championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland as well as Italy's Coppa Sabatini. Depending on his condition, Fuglsang may also contest other post-world championship races in Italy including the GP Beghelli, the Giro del Piemonte, the Giro dell'Emilia and the Giro di Lombardia.
Regardless of what lies ahead at the Vuelta a España for Fuglsang, it's been a year to remember. "I'm really, really satisfied with my season. It's been really good for me so far-better than expected, I think. Nobody expected it to be this good and neither did I."
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