While Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso, who is returning to the Tour de France, arguably will be the most popular Liquigas rider in the eyes of the general public, his teammate Roman Kreuziger could well steal his show if the young Czech holds his promises. In the absence of other riders such as Franco Pellizotti or Vincenzo Nibali, Kreuziger intends to take full advantage of this year's Tour de France to finally prove his worth as a stage race contender.
On Friday, at the team's press conference, the 24-year-old looked serene. "This is my third Tour de France, but [it will be] the first time that I can play a major part in it," he said to Cyclingnews. "I have had the two last years to gain experience, and I hope this will pay off now. Moreover, this is the first time when I am one of the true leaders, with the team to support me. I feel relaxed."
Kreuziger admitted that he felt physically more mature, and therefore hoped this would make a difference compared to the last two years. "I have gained stamina on the long climbs, and also improved [how I can respond to] rhythm changes. This certainly has to do with the general maturing of my body. I'm very motivated and hope to be able to stay with Ivan at the front on the climbs."
Contrary to Rabobank's Robert Gesink, also under 25 years old, Kreuziger will not target the white jersey of best young rider. "The white jersey will be complicated - I would almost have to win the Tour to get it! I'm not saying that Andy [Schleck - ed.] will win the Tour, but he'll certainly be up there for the podium. And I don't think I'm ready yet for the podium. A top 10 placing is possible for me, I think. I really want to improve my placing from last year [where he finshed ninth - ed.]. That's my focus. A stage victory will be difficult."
Certainly, Kreuziger will be a marked man in the mountains. But he also discarded any notion being able to contend for the victory in the Rotterdam prologue on Saturday, even though he finished second - by just one second - to Fabian Cancellara in the Tour de Suisse prologue. "It's going to be hard to come past Cancellara on that one. Plus, it's not so much a prologue than more of a time trial. It's nine kilometres long instead of five or so. Moreover, the course has some very long straights; it is not very technical, either. For sure, I also feel strong, and we will see what happens tomorrow. But I also think that someone like Boasson Hagen could surprise us."
In any case, his teammate and co-leader Ivan Basso thought that the two-pronged set-up is going to be an advantage for Liquigas compared to other teams, who have sole leaderships. "I think we are two riders that are perfectly compatible, in the sense that we are both strong and can go for top GC placings. We can make other teams suffer in this way," the Italian said.
Kreuziger agreed. "Two leaders are always better than one," he said.