Rafal Majka seemed happy to cede the spotlight to Peter Sagan at Bora-Hansgrohe's pre-Tour de France press conference in Dusseldorf, but at one point, the Pole was asked to discuss his first tilt at the general classification on the Tour.
"I will try my best," Majka said quietly, and Sagan jokingly admonished him for the meekness of his response. "Why don't tell them you are in the best condition ever?" Sagan asked, hamming it up for the microphones.
Majka was more effusive after the main event had finished, chatting amiably with a small group of Polish reporters as a scrum of television cameras swarmed around Sagan, and then speaking to Cyclingnews about his thoughts on the eve of a novel kind of Tour.
While most podium contenders tackled the Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse to fine tune their preparations for the Tour, Majka opted for the rather less celebrated Tour of Slovenia, but final overall victory there – allied to second overall at the Tour of California – was a firm indication of his condition ahead of La Grande Boucle.
"After the Tour of California, I went to train at altitude. There wasn't enough time to do that and go to the Dauphiné, so I decided to stay at altitude and then go directly to Slovenia and then on to the Polish championships," Majka said. "The important thing for me is to be in good condition for the final ten days of the Tour. I want to get through the first week without crashes or bad luck, and after that, whatever happens, happens."
Altitude racing instead of racing
Majka is lining out for the fourth Tour of his career, and has enjoyed success on each of his previous appearances, winning stages in 2014 and 2015, and claiming the king of the mountains title in 2014 and again last year. He has never, however, had the freedom to target the general classification, compelled as he was to work for his Tinkoff leader Alberto Contador.
However he dismissed the idea that it had been a frustration.
"No, certainly not. I was happy on the team with Alberto, and I was glad to do that work for them," Majka said. "And in the end, I got some good experience from riding those years with Contador because he's a great rider. Now it's my moment and we'll see what happens."
Majka's back catalogue at the Giro d'Italia, where he has placed in the top seven on three occasions, and the Vuelta a España, where he took third overall in 2015, is proof of his pedigree over three weeks, though he acknowledged that the Tour de France represents a slightly more arduous kind of challenge.
"At the Tour, there's always a lot of stress, though it's the same at the Giro and the Vuelta, mind. I always just keep in mind that we'll just see how it all ends up after 21 stages," Majka said. "The biggest difference with the Tour is that there's a lot more stress in the first week. But they're all hard races, and the result at the end doesn't lie."
Chasing a top five overall
Even ahead of a Tour as open as this one, where the list of contenders seems to lengthen by the day, Majka has managed to fly in under the radar in the approach the race, perhaps by dint of performing off-Broadway in Slovenia. His own ambitions, however, are lofty.
"I want to finish in the top five. That's the result I'm aiming for, I'd be happy with that," Majka said. "But like any rider, I want to finish as high up as I possibly can. We'll see what happens. It will certainly be hard to win with Porte and Froome, because they seem to be ahead of everyone else, at least based on what I saw at the Dauphiné."
Majka took heart, too, from watching the Dauphiné on television. No one team managed to control affairs in the high mountains, and the short final stage to Plateau de Solaison was marked by open, aggressive racing and isolated team leaders. In theory at least, this year's Tour route lends itself to similar fare, and Majka is enthusiastic about the prospect.
"The more open it is the better it is for me. I'd like an attacking race. Sky are definitely the strongest team of all, we can see that on paper and from the results," Majka said. "They'll want to control the race but there'll be others who want to take advantage of the shorter stages and attack, like we saw at the Dauphiné. I think the Tour could be a bit like that."
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