Orica BikeExchange arguably made one of the most astute signings of the summer when they snapped up Roman Kreuziger on a two-year deal from the soon to be defunct Tinkoff squad, and the Tour de France top-10 finisher has told Cyclingnews that Vincenzo Nibali was keen to attract him to the new Bahrain Merida team.
Kreuziger, 30, shares the same agent as Peter Sagan and at the start of the year the Tinkoff rider sat down with his family and representative to discuss the future.
"My manager and I were talking in January and we sat down with my wife and we made a list of the WorldTour teams that would be good for me when it came to 2017 and 2018," Kreuziger told Cyclingnews from his home in the Czech Republic.
Kreuziger and Nibali came through the ranks at Liquigas and rode the 2008 Tour de France as teammates with Kreuziger finishing 13th and Nibali 19th. A year later they both returned to the Tour and claimed spots in the top ten and although their paths split as they moved to different teams, the pair remained friends. When it came to next season Kreuziger was looking for stability and a new challenge, and while Orica could provide both, the other options out there were not quite on the same level.
"We got it down to around four or five teams but then it went quiet for a couple of months. Orica had been my first choice in January, with BMC as well and then during the Tour my agent called me and said that Orica was interested. I spoke to Matt White and I was really excited. They handled all the contracts really well and the choice for me was pretty clear.
"We had some contact with BMC but they were not sure if they could give me a two year deal at that time. When I changed teams I wanted two years, and Bahrain were also interested because I'm close friends with Vincenzo but we didn't get an answer from there. I wanted my contract sorted between the Tour and San Sebastian, and I didn't want to wait for the Vuelta. Nibali wanted me but I think that there was some misunderstanding between his team and my agent, so in the end they didn't really talk. I talked to Vincenzo and he understood my choice, because he also has a young family and he realised I couldn't wait forever."
Kreuziger recently caught up with his new teammates at one of their training camps in Switzerland and Italy. The mood was different to anything Kreuziger had experienced at other squads, with the team using the camp to bond ahead of next year.
"It's a different atmosphere to the teams I've been on in the past. I was at Astana and then Saxo, where there was an Italian mentality. Here it's completely different but it's a nice point of view and it's a real family team, like Liquigas was for me. That's why I chose this team.
"I met them last week. We had days of medicals in Italy and then we were in the mountains for a few days. We did some winter activities like walking, skiing and some fun with curling. I met most of the team but some are in Australia at the moment and [Esteban] Chaves is in Colombia."
Orica have been guarded over their riders' racing programmes for next year with the team denying last month that Chaves had already been confirmed for the 2017 Giro d'Italia. The team are set to announce their goals for next season in the coming weeks but with Chaves and the two Yates brothers, they have options when it comes to targeting the Grand Tours.
"I have my race programme for most of the year but the team are going to announce it. What I can say is that it will be pretty similar to previous years but the exact programme I can't say," Kreuziger told Cyclingnews. "They want me to help the younger guys but they also expect me to go for results as well, so there will be opportunities for me.
"I'll be in the Grand Tours with either the Yates brothers or Esteban. I'm a bit of a guarantee for the team because I can be pretty consistent so they know I can be the last man for a leader and be there if something happens."
Kreuziger is set to make his Orica BikeExchange debut at one of the Middle East races at the start of 2017.