Pliuschin team leader at Leopard Trek Continental

Alexandr Pliushin (Katusha)

Alexandr Pliushin (Katusha) (Image credit: Jean-François Quénet)

Alexandr Pliuschin will return to the Continental ranks next year after having spent four seasons at the top level of road cycling. The triple Moldovan national champ has signed with the reserve team of RadioShack-Nissan, Continental squad Leopard Trek, for the 2012 season, where he will be the team leader.

"It's a step back, but it's to make a big step forward very soon," 24-year-old Pliuschin told Velochrono. If he can show good results on Continental level during the first part of 2012, he was told he may step up into the World Tour team sometime during the year.

Pliuschin spent the last two seasons with Katusha after having made his debut as a pro with AG2R La Mondiale in 2008. "But I wanted to work with Johan Bruyneel," he explained. "I was going to join his team but with the merger, I had to be content with the Continental team. The deal is that I prove my worth during the season and that I'll join the World Tour team in August. We'll see, but one thing is certain: I want to put my name on the palmarès of many races this season."

Pliuschin will be Leopard Trek's top man, and it's a logical choice. "He's got the most experience, so he'll be the designated leader," explained the Luxembourg team's manager Adriano Baffi, who also counts 2010 Junior World Time Trial Champion Bob Jungels, Julian Kern and Giorgio Brambilla in his squad. At the team's first training camp in Calpe, Spain, at the beginning of December, the new outfit was able to meet for the first time.

"The atmosphere was excellent," commented Pliuschin. "We're a good gang of youngsters, with a good team spirit. Adriano Baffi already acts like a father with each one of us. I felt very good at his side right away. You can tell that he knows his stuff in cycling. Things can only work out well."

The 11-rider team, most of whom are U23 riders, will work on a single race programme. "I would like to see every rider race between 60 and 70 days per season, which would be an ideal learning experience for each one of them," Baffi explained.

The full 2012 Leopard Trek Continental team is: Eugenio Alafaci (Ita), Giorgio Brambilla (Ita), Jesus Ezquerra (Spa), Oliver Hofstetter (Swi), Bob Jungels (Lux), Julian Kern (Ger), Alex Kirsch (Lux), Alexandr Pliuschin (Mol), Pit Schlechter (Lux), Fabio Silvestre (Por) and Joel Zangerle (Lux).

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