GreenEdge may have its fair share of sprinters heading into their debut season, but if there's one flying under the radar, it's Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis.
Shy and unassuming, the 25-year-old is not yet as well known as his compatriots Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post – Sean Kelly) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Cervelo) but in joining GreenEdge and working under the tutelage of long-time idol Robbie McEwen, Kruopis is hoping to make his own mark in 2012.
It's Kruopis' first trip to Australia, and having spent a little over a week with his new team in Canberra, where the squad was based for bio-mechanical testing and the odd long training ride to Thredbo in the Australian Alps, he traveled to Melbourne for the team's official presentation where he spoke with Cyclingnews. The sun is out, and just down the road, there's some carollers entertaining some kids lining up to have their photo taken with Santa Claus. It's an atmosphere that appears to leave Kruopis in a near state of flux.
"It will soon be Christmas so I'd prefer it to be snowing," he said. "It's nice, it's a different culture and also the weather."
Kruopis will begin his season with the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman, a sprinter's paradise.
"I've wanted to go there for a long time so it's a dream come true," he told Cyclingnews. It seems a long way from his breakthrough in 2009 when, unsigned, he took his first professional victory in Izegem in West Flanders besting a field of 268 riders. Up until then, Kruopis had followed the same path as that of Bagdonas and Navardauskas, racing for Belgian UCI Continental team Klaipeda – Splendid in 2007, before moving on to Kazakhstani outfit Ulan in 2008 , and then Lithuanian Continental squad Team Piemonte in 2009.
Kruopis shifted again in 2010, this time alone to Palmans – Cras, before eventually making the step up to the Pro Continental level this season with Landbouwkrediet. Kruopis says that the constant moving has a lot to do with looking for growth and development, much like he is looking to do with GreenEdge.
The 25-year-old even tried his hand on the pines for a while before deciding that the road was where his talents were best-suited. "I also liked that but I was in the national team for a couple of years but it's not very good," Kruopis said. "There was problems, so I quit."
Kruopis initially took up the sport of cycling at the age of 12 when his school friends dragged him along for a ride. When Cyclingnews suggests that he probably beat them, he just laughs.
In scoring his biggest victory to date in 2011, at the second stage of the Tour of Belgium in Ypres, Kruopis gained a lot of confidence in his own ability. Kruopis finished ahead of a host of top line sprinters in a bunch kick, including Andre Greipel and Tom Boonen. In a show of pure strength not unlike that of his German counterpart, it was a win that gained the attention of RadioShack, but it was GreenEdge where Kruopis believed he could make the most of burgeoning career.
"It's a really good team and it's for the sprinters so there's a good chance to [take] stage victories – for me also," he said. "It already feels like I'm part of the family. I've really enjoyed every moment so far."
His win tally for 2011 also included victories at Omloop van het Waasland – Kemzeke, Grote 1-Mei Prijs, and finally the 213 kilometre Schaal Sels.
"I will see how everything works," Kruopis said of the season ahead on the new WorldTour team. "At first I will be in the second team and will be a sprinter also but maybe later I will help [Matt] Goss for the lead-out. I don't know how I will develop.
"I just want to make myself higher from last year and to grow up a little bit and to get more experience in every way."
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As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.