While Roman Kreuziger was among the sharpest of the group of favourites on stage seven of the Giro d'Italia, the Astana man acknowledged that Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) was the most impressive of the overall contenders on the race's mountain-top finish at Montevergine.
Kreuziger's first instinct on crossing the line at the sanctuary was to wheel to a halt in front of the podium and watch the replay of the finishing sprint on the big screen. After reviewing the images of those frenetic closing metres, he declared himself pleased with his own third place in a finale that he felt rewarded raw strength over pure finishing speed.
"I certainly put in a fine performance," Kreuziger told Cyclingnews as a soigneur helped him into a jacket. "I knew that I wasn't the quickest but in the end it was strength that counted, and Scarponi had more than anybody."
Although stage winner Bart De Clercq (Omega Pharma-Lotto) had a sizeable gap entering the final two kilometres, his lead was slashed to half a wheel by the finish, and Kreuziger felt that Scarponi's Lampre-ISD teammate Prezemyslav Niemic was one of the day's most notable performers, as he put in a solid stint driving at the front of the group of favourites.
"Scarponi also showed how strong he is thanks to Niemic, who did great work," Kreuziger pointed out, before assessing his own squad's display. "For my part I'm very happy. Over the past few days, the team is starting to become very united, and so I think that we can expect a good Astana come the Dolomites."
Ahead of the Giro, Kreuziger spoke of his desire to go on the attack on climbs during the corsa rosa rather than simply defending a position in the leading group, and he has worked on improving his anaerobic capabilities with the aid of Boulder-based coach Neal Henderson. More significantly, however, Kreuziger feels that after recently turning 25, he is approaching his physical prime.
"It's not been so much a case of working on my ability to accelerate, I'd say it's more a question of maturation," he explained. "As a rider matures, he gains strength. It's something natural thing that comes with age."
Another important factor in Kreuziger's 2011 campaign has been his move from talent-in-waiting at Liquigas to team leader in the here-and-now at Astana, and there has been a steely determination about the Czech on the first week of the race.
"I think that with the change of team my desire has returned, a desire to do more than in other years," he said, before descending towards the team bus.
Quite how high Kreuziger can aim at this Giro remains to be seen, but after the first major rendezvous of the race, he is still present and correct among the favourites. Etna awaits.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.