By Shane Stokes
Team Columbia-Highroad rider Kim Kirchen will get his season underway in the Tour of California on Saturday. The 30-year-old Luxembourg national time trial champion finished seventh and eighth in the past two Tours de France and wants to aim for the podium this year, telling Cyclingnews in an upcoming feature interview that he considers a top three possible if everything goes exactly right.
"I will start in California, helping guys like Michael Rogers and George Hincapie," he said recently. "I will be coming from winter training and so won't be under much pressure. California is a good race to start, to do work for somebody else. Then I will come back to do Murcia in Spain, go to Tirreno-Adriatico, then Milano-Sanremo."
Kirchen won Flèche-Wallonne last year and wants another strong showing in the Classics this time round. He has been debating whether to do the Vuelta a País Vasco or the Tour of Flanders, saying that he really likes the latter but that the stage race has its benefits.
"It is really bad that these two races are in one period, it makes it really hard to decide," he stated. "I really like the Tour of Flanders, I really want to do it, but to prepare for the Classics later on such as Amstel, Flèche and Liège, you really need the uphills in País Vasco [as training]."
Following the Classics, Kirchen will consider doing the Critérium International. He'll then ride more stage races before the big one in July.
"I might do Bayern, like last year, and then Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse. I think I lean more towards the Tour de Suisse because it is a little bit closer to the Tour, and I felt good [doing that] the past two years."
As was the case last year, Kirchen will compete in Team Columbia colours. The actual look of the kit has changed quite a lot since last year, but he said that the atmosphere is as before. "The mood is perfect. Last year we had a great team. We took all those victories, and everybody is super motivated.
"I also think we have the best young riders. Edvald [Boasson Hagen] and Tony [Martin] rode very well last year, and we have other really, really good guys. Mark [Cavendish] is one of those and he is one of the best sprinters in the world."