Rafal Majka is taking a different approach to the 2018 season, learning from the disappointment of crashing and abandoning the Tour de France in 2017 after spending the majority of his season with a laser focus on the French Grand Tour.
The 28-year-old Polish rider had a good season in 2017 despite the bad luck in France, winning the Tour of Slovenia, taking second in the Tour of California and Tour of Poland and winning a stage in the Vuelta a España.
Nevertheless, he told Cyclingnews Tuesday at the Vuelta a San Juan that this year he is going to take things one step at a time, starting with the Argentinean race that he says he's using for training for bigger goals down the road. After San Juan, he'll go to the Abu Dhabi Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico and then prepare for the Classics.
"For now I concentrate only on these weeks and these races, and the Tour is the second part of the season," he said. "Last year I was so much focused, and sometimes it's like too much. This year is step by step."
The talented climber finished 10th last year at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and he's anxious to take another stab at the Ardennes Monument.
"I know there are a lot of good Classics, but I want to try a second top 10 and maybe we try for more," he said. "We have a good team there, we have also [Davide] Formolo and [Peter] Kennaugh. This is better for me when we have three leaders there. It's easier to race.
"Liège has more long climbs. Sometimes it's steep but also long climbs. That makes a difference. It's a hard race, and I hope it's also good weather."
Following his Classics campaign, he'll take on the Tour of California again, and then take a short break before going to a training camp to prepare for the Tour de France.
"After we'll decide if I do another race or nothing before the Tour," he said.
Majka said he's set a goal to make the top five at the Tour, although he insisted that the French race was months away and his focus at the moment was squarely on Abu Dhabi and Tirreno.
"These are my first big races of the season, and I want to be good there and try to be the best," he said.
Majka has never made the top 10 at the Tour de France. His best result was 27th in 2016. He's finished third at the Vuelta in 2015 and fifth at the Giro d'Italia in 2016, but the Tour has proved a tougher nut to crack.
"I want to be there in the top five," he said. "I know it's not easy because there are a lot of strong guys, but I want to have only good luck in the Tour. No more crashes, no sick[ness]."
Majka won the mountains jersey at the Tour in 2016 and 2014, and he's taken three stage wins, but a top general classification result hasn't been in the cards.
Although he pointed out several times that the Tour de France is months away, he's taking the first steps toward cycling's biggest race this week in Argentina, where he finished sixth on the stage 2 uphill finale and now sits 12th overall, 10 seconds behind overall leader Roman Villalobos (Canel's Specialized).
"Actually, this race I'm here for the training because it's warm and good weather and especially it is no easy race," he said. "When you see yesterday, in the end, it was really tough because of all the headwind, so no European guys but other countries, and they really went fast. In the end, it was a tough race."
Indeed, the South American and Central American riders from smaller teams show up for the race highly motivated and ready to give the more well-known WorldTour rivals a run for their money.
"Mama mia! I was really surprised yesterday we went really fast," said Majka, who put in an attack on the final climb but missed the winning three-rider move. "But we know, when you come to another country it's almost worse, then it's a little bit different. It's a fast race."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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