Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) is aiming to build on last season's very promising Giro d'Italia showing.
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Tinkoff-Saxo's young climber hopes to improve on 2013's 7th place finish
Alberto Contador is the natural figurehead of the Tinkoff-Saxo team and will lead the Russian-owned squad at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. But Roman Kreuziger, Nicolas Roche and Rafal Majka will all have chances to show their Grand Tour credentials in 2014 before giving their all to help Contador.
Kreuziger and Roche have proven their talents in recent years. Majka confirmed he is one of the most exciting prospects for future Grand Tours during the 2013 season.
He is still only 24 but finished seventh overall in his Grand Tour debut at the 2013 Giro d'Italia and also impressed by leading the Tour of Poland for two days before finishing fourth overall. He was also third at Il Lombardia despite the terrible weather conditions.
"Being in the top 20 in the world in cycling is not bad for now," he told Cyclingnews at the Tinkoff-Saxo training camp with youthful enthusiasm.
"I'm very motivated for the new season. We've got a strong team and I've got a lot more experience for the future, especially for this year's Giro d'Italia."
He rightly smiles when he looks back at his 2013 season.
"The Giro was the peak of the season for me. It was my first Giro but I finished seventh. I was also in the white jersey for a long time but lost it to Carlos Betancur near the end. I was still happy through, because it was a great result for me."
"Of course I can't forget my placing at Il Lombardia and the Tour of Poland. I wore the leader's jersey in my national Tour! I also learned a lot about myself during three weeks of the Giro. My body learned a lot, too, and I feel stronger for 2014."
A new generation of Polish riders
Majka is part of a new generation of Polish riders emerging on the WorldTour stage, lifting the once famous cycling nation back to a position of prestige in Europe and capturing attention for its best riders at home thanks to the Tour of Poland being part of the WorldTour.
"It's pretty good. We finished 2013 ranked as 11th in the UCI WorldTour ranking," Majka said with national pride.
"Cycling is getting bigger in Poland. It was huge back in the day of Zenon Jaskula (who was third in the 1993 Tour de France) but we've got some good riders with Przemyslaw Niemiec at Lampre, Sylvester Szmyd at Movistar and Michal Kwiatkowski at Omega Pharma. He has shown he's a really good rider. He was eleventh at the Tour de France and fourth at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"This year I've also got Pawel Poljanski with me at Tinkoff-Saxo. He's a good climber and it's nice to have someone to speak to in Polish a little bit when you spend five months away from home."
Heading back to the Giro
Majka will spend a lot of time away from home in the next few months as he prepares to target the Giro d'Italia for a second time. He will share team leadership with Nicolas Roche. He will target the overall classification but is also desperate to secure his first professional victory.
"I'd love to win a stage in the Giro or at the Tour of Poland. I'm hungry to finally win a race," he said.
"I've been a pro for three years now and had a lot of top-ten places but I want to finally win a race. I need to do it.
"Of course the Giro will be a big goal for both me and Nicolas Roche. Seventh was good but I hope to do even better this year. I'm aiming for the top five this time. We'll have a good team."
"It's a good route for climbers like me. It's hard with only a little amount of flat time trialing, but there's a lot of hard climbs like the Zoncolan. It's going to be tough."
Like many climbers Majka seems to enjoy the suffering that only racing for three weeks in a Grand Tours can produce. Like natural climbers, he seems to have a near masochistic attitude when suffering in races, while still enjoying life with a smile.
"I love the Grand Tours and hard Classics like Lombardia. The harder it is, the more I like it," he said.
"The last week of a Grand Tour pushes you to your limit but my body seems to like it, too. That's the important thing and will hopefully help me in the Grand Tours of the future."
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