With his condition building nicely, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) is fully on track for the Giro d'Italia, the Russian says, as he is set to return to the Italian Grand Tour in 2019 after a one-year hiatus.
Zakarin experienced one minor hiccup in his form-building when he crashed at the UAE Tour last February and could not start the final stage. But Zakarin has got back up to speed again at Paris-Nice, where he placed 10th overall. In the Volta a Catalunya, where he talked to Cyclingnews, he is confident he can at least equal that result, if not better it.
"I feel fine, I had been a little bit sick and had a bit of a knee problem after my crash in the UAE Tour, but now I'm OK," Zakarin said before stage 1 of the Volta on Monday.
"For me, a top five or top 10 here in Catalunya would be great, because I've already had quite an intense start to the season and after the Volta I'm heading to Teide for a training camp."
Then will come Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de Romandie, which Zakarin won back in 2015 - his breakthrough victory at WorldTour level - and then a return to the Giro d'Italia, where he took his first Grand Tour win in the same year in torrential rain at Forli.
Since then, Zakarin came close to the Giro d'Italia podium in 2016 before a horrific downhill crash coming off the Coll dell'Agnello alongside race leader Steven Kruijswijk put paid to his chances. But then in 2017, he returned to the Giro d'Italia for fifth on GC, as well as claiming his first Grand Tour podium in the Vuelta a España that autumn.
Hinting strongly that the Giro d'Italia could be his favourite three-week stage race, Zakarin said, "I like the Giro route very much, not just this year but all of them. I think it's a hard race, and it's always open and interesting. It's only my opinion but I think it's more open," he added somewhat pointedly, "than the Tour."
At the moment it is uncertain if Zakarin will back up on the Tour after the Giro, but he says that a top-five goal in the Giro d'Italia is his first Grand Tour objective in 2019. "There will be a lot of top names, Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), [Primoz] Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). But I believe and want this result," Zakarin told Cyclingnews.
"I'll have done a similar build-up to my other Giro d'Italia with similar races, so that’s good. And with a good team there, too, then I'll have a good chance."