Rafal Majka (Team Tinkoff-Saxo), who won the final classification of the Tour of Poland after the last time trial in Krakow on Saturday, could be a Grand Tour contender in the future, say his sports directors and the race organizers.
“He is definitely made for stage races and notably the Grand Tours," his directeur sportif Bruno Cenghialta told Cyclingnews. “This option has been pretty clear to me since Rafal raced Paris-Nice this year [he went 31st overall]. Climbing will remain his big asset and, as he is only 24, he has time to improve his time trialing.
“I don't know what his limits are," said Tristan Hoffman, the other sports director of Tinkoff-Saxo at the Tour of Poland. “The Tour of Poland is a big steep in his career because he showed he can cope with pressure and beat some big riders.”
Majka's management said, however, that “we need to enjoy his victory in Poland first” and they tried to damper the speculations about their rider's ambition.
The Polish rider already raised expectations after he went sixth in the Giro d'Italia (with 7:04 minutes down to Nairo Quintana) and took the polka-dot jersey and two stage victories in the Tour de France.
Bjarne Riis, the manager of Tinkoff-Saxo, was himself eloquent last Sunday, on stage 1 of the Tour of Poland, when the team announced Majka extended his contract by three years. “The way Rafal performed during the Tour coming out of a hard Giro shows that it’s realistic to aim for the podiums in the Grand Tours," Riis said in a statement. "He is still young and he can still improve and become even better but he’ll be a key rider for us.”
Majka was also praised by his countryman, friend since the Junior years and rival Michal Kwiatkowski. “Majka has got skills which can help him to win the Giro, the Vuelta and the Tour de France as well," said the rider of Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider, who didn't fight on the Tour of Poland this year but, in a spirit of fair play, attended to the last stage.
Czeslaw Lang, the Tour of Poland's general director, also believes Majka can be “the first Polish rider to win the Tour de France one day.” A former professional in the 1980s, Lang added, “That's possible because Majka is 24, still young and in the making, and he is improving very gradually. In the time trial, he is not as strong as [Brad] Wiggins and [Fabian] Cancellara but is able to fight against the climbers. In terms of climbing, he showed he can win a very, very difficult stage. And he has a fighting spirit. He is starving with victories.”
Lech Piasecki, the first Pole to take the yellow jersey in the Tour de France – in 1987 – shared these optimistic views of Majka. “With his series of good results in the Giro, in the Tour and in the Tour of Poland, Majka is making a mental of champion," says the Tour of Poland's race director. “So I think that he's able to win the Tour or the Giro.”
Majka himself avoided a 'yes' or 'no' answer when media asked him if his next success could be into the Tour de France. “I am still young and I still have to learn a lot," he said after he podium ceremony. “But it's clear I will target new goals next year.”
In a statement released last Sunday to announce his contract's extension, Majka explained his “ambition is to aim for the overall win in the Grand Tours in the future.”
Majka is due to close his season at the end of the month at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.
In the future, he could be one of Tinkoff-Saxo's key riders for the Grands Tours, alongside Alberto Contador and probably Ivan Basso who is rumoured to come in from Cannondale.