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Alexandr Pliushin (Katusha)
Katusha's rookie shows he has the makings of a champion
For the first time in the history of the Tour de France, the Moldovan national champion's jersey has been seen at the front of the race.
Alexandr Pliushin showed his fighting spirit when he jumped from the peloton on to Quick Step's Martijn Wijnants who was the only rider left from the three-man breakaway that opened the road for most of stage with Rabobank's Lars Boom Alan Perez of Euskaltel. Pliushin's attacking style was on show between 25km to go until nine kilometres before the finishing line in Brussels.
"I had seen some riders at the head of the peloton, notably with Astana moving up to the front. I hesitated but then I've said to myself: I'll go," the 23-year-old from Katusha told Cyclingnews after the finish.
"It's a pity that the guy with me in the lead was cooked after so many kilometres at the front already. We needed a one-minute lead. There was a lot of headwind as well. So it was hard to stay up there for longer but I would have liked to stay there until five kilometres to go."
Pliushin discovered a new world when he started the Tour de France for the first time just two days ago, explaining, "There were a lot of people with an incredible atmosphere. But I want to think that the Tour de France is a bike race like the others.
"I will try to break away again but it's a long race and I've learnt that patience is the way to succeed. I will not attack every day," he added.
Pliushin got the call for the Tour de France Katusha team after he rode a convincing Tour de Suisse. "My condition has grown progressively," he told Cyclingnews before the teams' presentation on Thursday. "The team is confident in me, so I'll do my best for my leaders," he said, referring to cimbers Joaquin Rodriguez and Vladimir Karpets, who are Katusha's men for the general classification.
Pliushin moved to the Russian outfit from Ag2r-La Mondiale where he started his pro career two years ago. "It's better for my head," he said. "It's brilliant. To ride for such a team brings a lot of joy. To be a Russian or a Moldovan is the same. We're part of the Russian cycling global project."
Katusha's team manager Andreï Tchmil was a sports minister in Moldova before taking on his new role. He believes Pliushin can again be the star many witnessed in the youth categories. In 2005, he won the Junior Classique des Alpes despite two bad crashes and impressed all the observers.
After two years following the advice of Daniel Gisiger at the UCI's World Cycling Centre in Aigle, he joined the feeder team of Ag2r in Chambéry and won the U23 Tour of Flanders. He was seen as an exceptional talent.
Under the colours of the French team, he rode very aggressively in the Tour Down Under and Le Tour de Langkawi in the early part of 2009 but later suffered from anorexia. The 2010 Tour de France is the real start of the career of a prodigy.