When Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) took a last-minute victory in last year's Critérium du Dauphiné, it all seemed like a deserved win for a man who for years performed consistently in stage races and would at times have a crack at Grand Tour's top ten. This year, however, the Dane's win came after four months of consistent and incredibly effective racing that has elevated him, for the first time in his career, into the position of being considered one of the Tour de France favourites.
Coming to Brussels Expo for the pre-race press conference, Fuglsang acknowledged his position as one of the front-runners, calmly stating that a podium placing this year is a realistic goal. Being in this position may not always be comfortable ahead of a race like the Tour de France, but sitting among a circle of Danish reporters, he seemed calm and relaxed, yet conscious of the challenge awaiting him.
"To be honest, this is usual; the Danish [media] part is always like that. You guys are the extra" – he smiled when asked about the pressure and media duties.
"If I compare now to last year, I think I'm more relaxed this year. I had a really good season till now, my best season ever. In some kind of way, my season is home-safe, even if I would do nothing in the Tour. I can take it more relaxed, I don't need a good result. I still hope for a good result, I still chase it and still believe in it, but it's not that I need it in the same way, as if I wouldn't have had the good season I had so far," he explained later while to Cyclingnews.
Fuglsang's best placing in a Grand Tour remains 7th, taken back at the 2013 Tour de France. He has long sought to improve this result and although he may not have a lot of experience in leading the key WorldTour stage races, over the last four months he has shown the composure of a rider who is not afraid to take the initiative and responsibility for the race he wants to win.
Having performed well in all three of the Ardennes Classics, Pais Vasco and the high mountains, Fuglsang starts the Tour de France confident in his abilities and those of his teammates. He is eager to leverage the horsepower of his Astana squad, both in the stage 2 team time trial and beyond.
"Till now, I had a super season. Training-wise also, last weeks, before coming here, everything went good. The shape is good, so I think I am where I should be. I feel ready, and I look forward to racing a little bit".
Asked if he has any concerns about stages routed at high altitude, Fuglsang offered some analysis.
"That could be one of the concerns, the altitude. You might have guys like, especially [Egan] Bernal, who is probably more used to it. But on the other hand, I did quite some altitude training this year, and I was at altitude before coming here. Those hard stages are still three weeks away," he said.
"Everybody reacts differently to these conditions; I hope it won't have a big impact. But with that said, a stage like the one with Izoard and Galibier [stage 18] on paper looks super hard and [is thought] to be something special. But if you have a headwind in all the valleys, then it may actually be a stage that will not have a big influence and no big differences."