The Vuelta a Espana might be a new start for Alexandr Pliuschin. For his second grand tour start after last year's Tour de France, the Moldavian Champion seems to be indeed relaxed and self confident.
"We will have a very strong team at the Vuelta", he told Cyclingnews. "My main goal is to support our leader Joaquin Rodriguez as far as possible and offer him the best possibilities to win the race."
Twenty-four-year-old Pliuschin, recalled he felt very stressed up until one year ago and struggled in his career's management: "I have had some mental problems."
A vice-World Champion in time trial and Classique des Alpes winner in 2005, as a Junior, Pliuschin didn't shine in his first two pro seasons with AG2R-La Mondiale in 2008 and 2009. He says: "When you are strong in juniors and can't race at the same level once you've turned professional, when you have some crashes, it's not so easy..."
A newcomer to Katusha in 2010, he started feeling better but still faced "adaptation problems" in the first six months.
"The team - Andrei Tchmil, the staff, the other riders - gave me a lot of support", Pliushin confided. "They say I should take it easy and take it year by year."
"Now I feel much better, with no stress.”
As a result of this new start in his career, Pliuschin came third in July, on Tour of Austria's stage 4 to St.Johann/Alpendorf. Early August he showed himself in three breakaways at the Tour of Poland, exhibiting his blue, yellow and red national jersey (that he wears for the third time in four years).
"I'm in a good shape", he said. "I did a long training camp in the mountains before, so I miss a bit of freshness but I try to reach my best level for the Vuelta".
Pliushin seems to have accepted his domestique's position in the team. "One day I hope I can do well in big races, but now I can help my leaders on Classics or stage races".
An all-rounder, Moldavian notably won the Under-23 Tour of Flanders, in 2007.
To explain his good feeling with Katusha, Pliuschin not only praised the careful attitude of his staff but the Eastern atmosphere too. Although Katusha is obviously a very political project with Russian funds, which decided for example to have a 100 per cent Russian roster on the last Tour de France, the Moldavian representative says he "is in the same situation as a Russian. Everybody is equal in the team."