Rafal Majka of Tinkoff – Saxo lies third in the general classification after doing well to avoid the pitfalls of what has been a topsy-turvy opening week at the Giro d'Italia.
The Pole is 1:10 down on the maglia rosa of Cadel Evans and now teammate Michael Rogers believes Majka has the ability to finish on the podium.
Majka took the white jersey of the best young rider this weekend and he will now be favourite to hold on to that honour all the way to the race finish after losing out to Carlos Betancur in last year's Giro.
There is little doubt, however, that Majka's ambitions this year go beyond the best young rider honours. After his seventh overall last year, the 24-year-old will be gunning for a podium finish and judging by his team's performance at Sestola, when they moved to the front on the climb, it is not unrealistic.
“It was more or less to keep him out of trouble really because we knew it was quite steep and quite narrow,” Rogers said at the finish. “I think it worked, it was quite a good thing to do and he saved a bit of energy there.”
Majka admitted before the stage that he had made a mistake by attacking on Montecopiolo the previous day, leaving him unable to respond when Evans and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) accelerated in the final stretch to the line.
“Maybe I used some energy there and for the final I lost five seconds on Evans and Uran,” said Majka, who – like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and others – is still nursing his wounds after his fall during the mass crash at Montecassino on stage 6. “I feel a little bit the crash but I think I’ll be much stronger in the coming weeks.”
Majka, like the other big contenders for this year's Giro victory, chose not to try and chase down Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r – La Mondiale) when the Italian attacked on a steep section around five kilometres from the finish. He instead finished safely in the leading bunch with Evans, Uran and Quintana.
“We knew it was only four or five percent in the last four kilometres so one person on his own was either going to have to be super strong to ride away or he was going to have to use a lot of energy,” Rogers said. “Still, Pozzovivo rode well and he gained a little bit of time.”
Several of the riders who carried hope of general classification success into the Giro have already had those ambitions crushed. Garmin's Dan Martin and Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez suffered in crashes and have pulled out while Lampre-Merida's Michele Scarponi is no longer in the reckoning.
Those who have survived a tough first week, however, now have even bigger ambitions and a clearer picture of what is realistic.
Majka joined Saxo Bank early in 2011 after matching Alberto Contador on a training camp in Mallorca and the Pole's value to his team has risen ever since. After Nicolas Roche's hopes were dashed in the Montecassino crash, Majka is now the team's sole leader at the Giro. Rogers believes his teammate can make a top-three finish in Trieste.
“I think he can be on the podium,” Rogers said of Majka’s goals, but was more catious when talking about the pink jersey itself. “I think it’s too soon to say. The time trial’s probably not so suited to him but that last week certainly is.”
Rogers himself is building up his form after his return to racing after a positive test for clenbuterol at last year's Japan Cup. He uses the Giro to prepare for July's Tour de France.
“I’m getting better and better,” he said. “I’m missing that really top end, but I’m there when there are twenty guys there, so it’s one step at a time.”
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