Singularly focused, Jakob Fuglsang showed promising signs on Sunday at Amstel Gold Race that his best may not be too far away. The Astana recruit was one of five men in the distinctive aqua kit in contention on the final lap leading to the finish, with the 28-year-old eventually finishing 17th at 25 seconds, having been dedicated to the defending champion Enrico Gasparotto.
"We didn't get enough out of it in the end compared to how strong we actually were as a team," Fuglsang told Cyclingnews.
A season that has so far been stop-start is finally starting to come together for the Danish rider who is targeting a top-10 GC performance at this year's Tour de France. Sixth overall at Ruta Del Sol, Fuglsang couldn't carry that momentum through to Paris-Nice, crashed, and then like much of the peloton, got sick. Catalunya and then Pais Vasco proved a bit of a battle and he never really felt as if his form was heading in the right direction. At Valkenburg, that changed.
"Sunday was nice and there was a different feeling in the body that now I can, the body works."
At La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, following his support role for Gasparotto and before he's likely to be at the services of Vincenzo Nibali or defending champion Maxim Iglinskiy on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Fuglsang is ready to leave it all out on the road.
"I will for sure try if the legs are there," he confirmed, but with a caveat. "I will go from the distance instead if I get the green light," not wanting the 205km race to be decided only on 1300 metres of racing on the Mur de Huy.
"We're one of the stronger teams and we have to try something from distance. We don't have an explosive guy like Gilbert who is the obvious one. Rodriguez if he starts. There will be maybe other guys like Uran or Henao. Sky will maybe have someone. Otherwise it's pretty open I think for the podium."
All for the Tour
In his press conference following the win at Amstel Gold Race, Roman Kreuziger (Saxo - Tinkoff) made mention of that fact that he believed while at Astana he did not receive the support he needed, and with it the confidence required to deliver the results desired by both himself and the team. Fuglsang is relieved to say that his experience, following a tumultuous exit from RadioShack, has been a long way from what Krueziger felt aggrieved by.
"I actually feel that I have that support," he told Cyclingnews. "But that's also why in the end if they ask me to work for somebody else in the team I'll give 100 per cent back. It puts something in the bank for later. You cannot always take, take, take. You have to give back. Gaspa is normally going to be there in the Tour for me and the Classics are really important for him so for me it's a good opportunity to give something back."
That confidence is also evident in the way that the team is supporting Fuglsang's tilt at the Tour de France. He's finished 50th overall in both Tours he's competed in (2010, 2011) but the reason for his optimism comes primarily from his result in the Vuelta a España in 2011, where he finished 11th overall.
"I was tired in the end and lost a little bit there but it's what's given me the hope, the belief that I can actually do it," Fuglsang said.
The 100th edition of the Tour de France will be in essence, a test for the Dane but he's doggedly determined - "If we prepare as we've planned I believe in it."
After the Ardennes, Fuglsang will race only the Dauphine before the Tour, heading to Tenerife and the Sierra Nevada instead. It's the same training over racing, less is more approach used by Team Sky - something he laughs at when the comparison is noted - but not a new one, given it's what he did in the lead up to last year's Giro d'Italia, although the start was not forthcoming. Fuglsang explained that with the focus on Nibali's campaign at the Giro, the pressure on him from management ‘is more or less off". By the same token, other members within the Astana Tour squad will get their chances when it comes to individual stages.
"For me to start with it will be GC," he said. "I will try to go for top 10. That's my goal and my objective but I have to see as the race moves on if it's realistic.
"It's not up to us to create the race; we're there to hang on for as long as possible. We're not there to win the Tour, that's not our approach."
With that in mind, when it comes to the all-important time trials, his markers won't be podium favourites Alberto Contador (Saxo - Tinkoff) or Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
"My big competitors they will be maybe Tejay Van Garderen, Peter Velits, Navarro from Cofidis and there will be some other guys. I normally do a better time trial than a guy like him or Quintana from Movistar if he's going," Fuglsang reasoned.
Relaxed? Yes. But it's a mood that Fuglsang is revelling in having spent some of the early years of his road career under Bjarne Riis. Though important for his development at the time, Fuglsang believes that it's time to be taking control of his own destiny, something he had firmly in mind when signing a three-year-deal with Astana; he didn't want to have to be starting over again after two years having spent the first trying to find his feet.
"It's good for me to be in a team where I actually have to think a little bit and say: what is it that I want," Fuglsang explained. "Maybe I have to take a training camp for myself or take a decision that I want to do something but at least I can choose what I want to do and it puts me in a situation where I have to think about what I want and what will make me better. For me now, it's a good position to be in and a good thing for me that I have to think and I'm not like a robot where I just follow, and follow, and follow."
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