Roman Kreuziger Interview
‘The ride this morning included about 2,000m of climbing, which isn’t unusual in Gran Canaria – wherever you ride you face an ascent,’ says the 27-year-old. ‘But look around. The sun always shines here and it’s a beautiful place. If I was training back home in the Czech Republic, I’d be facing walls on the turbo trainer.’
Four-hour mountainous sessions are the daily minimum at the Tinkoff-Saxo camp, based at the stunning Anfi Tauro resort. Over 3,000m of climbing isn’t unusual and things are set to crank up between now and the official camp’s conclusion next Wednesday 22nd January.
It’s a busy time at the training camp for the riders and a really positive atmosphere right throughout the Tinkoff-Saxo team. Alongside getting the miles in, it’s an opportunity to thank the team’s major sponsors – Tinkoff Credit Systems and Saxo Bank – to show off their new Specialized bikes and Sportful kit, and to divulge to the world’s press about their plans for the coming season, and to show off a little of their form. But hard work on and off the bike is something Kreuziger isn’t shy of.
‘The second week sees us practising race simulation situations, so things become even harder,’ he says. ‘Someone will attack, others will follow, and the whole ride becomes that more competitive.’
For a season that for many Tinkoff-Saxo riders didn’t conclude until October with Lombardy and the Tour of Beijing, mimicking race breakaways and sprints in January may seem early. But this is professional cycling at the elite level and with a 10-month calendar and desire to claim victories in the Classics and Grand Tours, Tinkoff-Saxo are leaving nothing to chance. It’s a demanding schedule but one Kreuziger thrives on.
‘For many riders, the training camp is more difficult than training at home because you concentrate on more efforts each and every day. But, for me personally, it doesn’t change a lot because I have to train a lot to perform well. The main differences are that you’re training with the guys, you have a massage every day, and some meetings.’
This morning’s training ride included a stiff climb, touching near 20% at times. Tinkoff-Saxo’s formidable team captain, Alberto Contador, headed the ascent. Behind him followed the team that aims to send the 31-year-old Spaniard to the podium’s peak in Paris come July. About 30m behind Contador sat Kreuziger, showing due respect to his leader but looking strong and focused. Although it’s mid-January, he’s recording some pretty impressive figures in training – and unlike his teammates, he has a further two weeks in Gran Canaria to prepare for his 2014 race opener at the Tour of Oman in February.
‘The rest of the Tinkoff-Saxo team are heading off on Wednesday [22nd January] but I’m here longer,’ says Kreuziger, failing to conceal a wry grin. ‘It’s hard to train outside in the Czech Republic in January; here you can train every day. My wife’s coming over, too. Training every day in this beautiful sunshine will help me reach my targets in 2014.’
Kreuziger sees Oman as a good test for the races to follow. Tirreno-Adriatico is in March. Then it’s one of the key targets of 2014: the Ardennes Classics. In 2013, Kreuziger recorded the biggest one-day win of his career to date at the Amstel Gold Race. This morning’s climb was stiff but Kreuziger’s relaxed face and souplesse pedaling style conjured memories of his epic Dutch victory.
At Amstel he showed the fearless style that prompted sport director Bjarne Riis and Tinkoff-Saxo to recruit him from Astana at the end of 2012 and give him a three-year contract. With 17km to go he broke from the peloton, but still faced a tough 3km ascent to Cauberg. Experienced racers Philippe Gilbert and Alejandro Valverde attempted to chase him down… but to no avail. Kreuziger completed the 251km course in 6:35:21 to beat Valverde by 22 seconds.
‘Amstel is one of my favourite races and I’m looking forward to going back,’ Kreuziger says. ‘I’ll always remember that day with fondness and hopefully I’ll be in similar shape this year. But in my mind, I’m a bit more focused on Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Let’s just see what happens.’
A light rider like Kreuziger – he currently hits the scales at a whisker under 70kg – is suited more for the hills of the Ardennes Classics than the Flemish equivalent. Those cobbles demand a heavier rider to absorb the relentless vibrations, so events like Paris-Roubaix will remain off this Tinkoff-Saxo rider’s schedule. There’s also too great a risk of injury for a rider like Kreuziger, who’s aiming to show well at the Tour of Romandie, which he won in 2009, and the Tour of Suisse, where he won in 2008 and finished third in 2013.
An extra year training and acclimatising to the successful Tinkoff-Saxo team set-up sees Kreuziger as a true contender to win the Suisse event for the second time. Kreuziger suggests it’s possible due to the unique atmosphere he encounters at Tinkoff-Saxo, suggesting this teammates are more like a family. He’s also developed a trusting relationship with the coaching team with the constant two-way dialogue raising his chances of success while reducing risk of injury or overtraining.
‘With 12 months of training and racing behind us, the team and myself are more of aware of my performance equation. We know when to rest, when to unleash a hard effort or when to let the foot off the pedal a bit.
‘You read all the time about the importance of watts and weight on being your best,’ he continues. ‘And yes, all that stuff is important. But if you’re committed to an intense session like intervals and you have a coach who doesn’t listen, you can easily become ill. Here, when it comes to sessions like intervals, we’ll talk before training and after to assess how I’m feeling.’
That attention to detail at the Tinkoff-Saxo training camp stretches to nutrition. They have their own chef here – Hannah Grant – and source all their ingredients locally. The breadth and variety of recipes on the menu is astounding and contributes to the mood of the 20 riders present (the other seven are preparing in Australia for the Tour Down Under, which begins on Sunday 19th January). Not only do they ride as a team but fuel as a team, too. It’s that unity which has given riders like Kreuziger the greatest chance to reach their potential.
For Tinkoff-Saxo’s leader Contador, claiming the yellow jersey at the Tour de France for the third time in his career is the primary aim. Kreuziger may be there to assist him but that’s to be confirmed deeper into the season. What’s clear is that Kreuziger displays the attributes of a man designed for the Grand Tours. He can climb, is strong on the flat and time trials well. Surely longer-term aims comprise featuring strongly at the Giro, Tour or Vuelta.
‘That’d be great but whether it’s next year or in two years, we’ll have to see,’ says Kreuziger. ‘I need to consistently win one-week stage races first before looking at the Grand Tours. If you can win them, it’ll give you the confidence to attack the big ones.’
Oleg Tinkov’s recent acquisition of Tinkoff-Saxo will provide the stability and resources to give Kreuziger an even greater chance. The new team ownership is building on the investment from sponsors Tinkoff Credit Systems and Saxo Bank and the technical expertise of Bjarne Riis, with a clear direction and initiatives. Tinkoff-Saxo’s CEO Stefano Feltrin reveals that the team will pay greater attention to sports science in the future. They’ll scour international universities and seek cutting-edge partnerships to give Tinkoff-Saxo the advantage over their rivals. Kreuziger’s excited by the prospect, although he also cites the benefit currently gained by their impressive equipment.
‘My main bike is the Specialized Tarmac SL4 and I love it,’ he says. ‘You can use it in all conditions and over all terrain. I’m also looking forward to riding it in my new kit. It’s a fantastic design – I love the yellow – and it goes really well with my tanned limbs!’