Roman Kreuziger is ready to take his career to another level. The new Astana co-leader will challenge for the overall victory at the Giro d'Italia this year, without the team's captain Alexander Vinokourov and therefore as the squad's sole spearhead.
The 24-year-old Czech has finished in the top ten of the Tour de France these past two years and already won the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie in the past, so the new objective is a logical step in his career as a pro rider.
"I've come to a stage in my career where I feel I can take up responsibility. I will go to the Giro to win it," said Kreuziger at the team presentation in Monaco on Friday. Even though he has never participated in the Italian Grand Tour, his five years at Liquigas and the fact that he lives in Italy make him feel confident as he faces the challenge.
"It might be new to me, but I'm not scared," he commented. "I know the Italian mountains. I'm confident we can do very well, and I'm very motivated. I think for the first time trial we will be good, but once we get to the mountains we will be with the best," he added, firmly believing in the striking power of his team at the Giro's stage one collective race against the clock and his subsequent striking power in the first mountain stages.
The choice of his new team was also a logical one, said Kreuziger. Leaving Liquigas, where he has raced the past five years in the company of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, was necessary in order to push his career forwards.
"I looked at all the positives and negatives, and after five years in the same team I preferred to change, because I was missing a driving force. I needed new input to motivate myself again. With the experience of Vinokourov and Martinelli, I'm sure I can still grow a lot. From that point of view, Astana was the best option.
"There are a lot of people with a lot of experience in this team. Martinelli, and the sports directors, have achieved a lot in the past. I think they will be able to help me win a Grand Tour."
To achieve this, Kreuizger is ready to learn and even to change his riding style, considered by many as too passive. "I was often told that I wait too much for the others to move in races, and Vino will teach me how to attack at the best moment, to become an actor in the races."
As regards the rest of the season, Kreuziger did not know yet whether he will go to the Tour de France in support of Vinokourov, or target the Vuelta instead. "It really depends on the Giro, and how I come out of that. It's such a hard race. I think for me it might actually be better to race the Vuelta," he revealed, even though Martinelli had said the decision was completely open.
The Czech seemed very satisfied with his new position and happy about his team choice. "Compared to last year, Astana has a lot of new riders and the team has become more international," he said. "It's a young team but we also have the experience of guys like Fofonov, Stangeli, Vino... That's very important.
"Some guys like Vaitkus and Tangert had health problems, and they are coming back now. I saw them at the training camp and they are already in good shape. There are also a lot of young, talented Kazakhs. I believe the team will be very strong in all races."