Six weeks after his best result to date in the Tour de France - fifth overall in Paris - and four months after his first major Classic win in the Amstel Gold, Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) feels that after such a strong first half of the season, he has no points to prove in the Vuelta a España this August. But as the 27-year-old tells Cyclingnews, he is still determined, at least initially, to give it 100 percent for the overall of cycling's third Grand Tour of 2013.
"It's a bit of a voyage in the dark for me, I'm asking myself the same question," Kreuziger says when asked about his ambitions for the Vuelta. "But the first three or four days of the Vuelta are definitely tough enough for me to get some sort of an answer."
"I did a good Tour de France, then I rode well in San Sebastian [finishing third] then I stopped riding for an entire week. I did a bit of training at altitude and then I've been building up slowly but steadily for this. So my head is where it should be - but as for my legs, that's only going to be decided on the road."
Kreuziger has ridden the Vuelta three times, the last in 2010, when he finished a reasonable but not headline-grabbing 28th overall. And although the 2013 race route looks daunting, he says there is no point in getting stage fright, as it were, before the Vuelta actually gets underway.
"We've already been to see the stage two mountain top finish and although it's hard, I'm pretty sure we'll see 20 riders finishing all together at the top," he says. He downplays the importance of the first stage too, saying, "The team time trial route is hard, but not exceptionally so and we've got a bunch of good riders for it - with [Michael] Morkov, [Nicki] Sorensen, [Matteo] Tosatto, Nico [Roche]....tomorrow [Friday] we'll go see Monday's mountain top finish." He has never been up the Angliru, though - arguably Spain's most difficult climb - and will probably not have a chance to do so before the race reaches there on September 14th.
"If I'm going well, I'll go for the overall. But if I'm not, then I won't, I'll go for stage wins if I can and I will try and build my form for the Worlds. Either way, this is going to be without getting stressed about it. The results this year have already been good."
Other Saxo-Tinkoff riders, such as Nicolas Roche, have already also placed their hat in the ring when it comes to fighting for the overall. Kreuziger says any questions over who is the team leader should be resolved ‘fairly easily' with a discussion both before and during each stage. Rafa [Majka] and Chris [Anker Sorensen] have also expressed interest in the overall."
"It's a question of talking things through and then seeing who's in good shape when we get to the bottom of each big climb and talking again," Kreuziger says. "We're all adults, all professionals. I'm absolutely sure we'll sort that out. It's not your words that decide the leadership, its your legs."
He brushes away comparisons with his 2011 combined assault on the Giro and Tour where he rode strongly in Italy, but then fell at almost the first fence come July. "The Giro-Tour combination is completely different to the Tour-Vuelta," he argues. "There's a heck of a lot more pressure in both races, the Vuelta is very different - it's a serious race, but there's not so much stress. And I've always gone well here, even if it was helping other riders not riding for myself."
Post the Vuelta - and he is determined to go all the way to Madrid - come the Worlds, which has a route with more than a passing similarity to the sort of terrain to be found in the Amstel Gold Race. But Kreuziger refuses to say what kind of chance he thinks he will have there until he has actually seen the route.
"It's close to where I live in Italy and I will be going to look at the circuit once this is over," he says. "We'll have a strong team, though, whatever – seven guys for our country, which is good." After that may come Il Lombardia as his last race of 2013, "but if I do it that would it." Whatever the outcome, he can already be satisfied with 2013.