Ilnur Zakarin has confirmed he will target the podium at the 2018 Tour France. The 28-year-old Katusha-Alpecin leader finished fifth in the Giro d'Italia and third in the Vuelta a España this year and will return to the Tour de France for the second time in his career having won a stage in 2016.
"I've not decided with regards to the Giro d'Italia but for sure I'll do the Tour de France as the GC leader," the Russian told Cyclingnews at Katusha's team camp in Mallorca, on Saturday.
"I might still do the Giro or the Vuelta a Espana but 2018 is going to be about targeting the Tour de France. I think I can do top-five or even the podium in July. I think that I'm ready and I'm really going to try. I've done the Giro and the Vuelta as the leader, and now it's time to do the Tour."
With new signing Marcel Kittel already confirming that he will target the Tour de France next July, the Katusha management find themselves in the delicate situation of providing both team leaders with enough support to achieve their aims. The issue becomes more acute in 2018 with Grand Tour teams cut from nine riders to eight. However, Zakarin, who has achieved his Grand Tour success in the past without the same backing as some of his rivals, believes that he can share teammates with Kittel.
"I think I'll have three climbers for me, and there will be three riders for Marcel but the riders for the flats and the sprints can also help me in the first week of the Tour when we're on the tight roads and the cobbles. I've never raced the cobbles but I'll check those stages out after Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I think we've a really strong team for the team time trial, too, with Tony Martin, and Alex Dowsett. Once I saw the parcours for the Giro and the Tour I made my decision."
Despite not having a stacked roster of GC talent in recent years, Katusha have allowed Zakarin to develop at his own pace. The Russian has cut his teeth in the Giro and in 2017 was a consistent performer throughout the season. He lost time in the opening weeks at both the Giro and the Vuelta but rallied in the second and third weeks to climb the overall standings.
His debut and only Tour appearance came in 2016, when he won a stage from the break at Finhaut-Emosson. That experience allowed Zakarin the chance to experience the pressure-cooker style environment of the Tour de France without the responsibility GC leadership. Granted, it came after he crashed out of the Giro, but the Russian is keen to put the 2016 lessons into practice next season.
"I know that I must take it easy once I'm there. What I learned from the Tour de France in 2016 was that I can't become too emotionally involved in what's going on around me. That just leads to getting nervous and making mistakes. You need to be relaxed, especially in the first week."
Descending, especially in the wet, is one area in which Zakarin knows he must improve. It has cost him time and energy in the past and he is aware it is a weakness he must correct.
"If I rate myself on it then I'm a four out of 10 on descents. I don't know why that is but the problem was in my head. Maybe it was from my crash at the Giro in 2016 but next year I don't think it's going to be a problem. I don't need a lot of support but I need to be strong in the head. I know that it's a problem but I can fix it."