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Slovak Michael Kolar turns heads in rookie season

KUALA TERENGGANU, Malaysia (VN) — By now, cycling fans should have noticed Michael Kolar. The Slovak of team Tinkoff-Saxo, besides being Peter Sagan’s high school classmate, has collected several placings.

“I started mountain biking in Canada, I continued in Slovakia and I rode for the same junior team as Peter,” Kolar said. “He’s two years older than me but I always rode with him and his brother Juraj.”

The two mountain biked together, and they raced on the road both near and far from their hometown in Zilina. Kolar began in Toronto, Canada. He moved there with his parents at the age of 1, started mountain biking with his stepfather, and returned to Slovakia at 12. His brother and sister remained in Toronto.

Sagan ruled most races. “He was always a superbly, over the top guy,” Kolar said. He won the mountain bike world title in 2008. Kolar — as he’s done so far in the Santos Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar, and Tour de Langkawi this year — sprinted. In his final year as an amateur last year, he won two one-day races and stages in tours, including the Tour of Serbia.

Sagan, two years Kolar’s senior, and his agent Giovanni Lombardi spoke about Kolar. Lombardi looked for teams for the 21-year-old and found a few. However, with the European economic crisis, they fell through. Tinkoff manager Bjarne Riis, however, remained interested and signed Kolar for two seasons.

Kolar, sitting in the team car in his yellow and blue jersey, said, “It was probably the worst year for me to turn pro.”

Riis should be happy with his new cyclist. Though Kolar has yet to hit the jackpot, he has placed and taken important UCI points. In the final stage of the Tour Down Under, he finished ninth. Here at Malaysia’s Tour de Langkawi, Kolar has registered seven top-10 finishes through nine stages before Saturday’s finale.

“He’s doing well and he’s [21] years old,” Tinkoff sport director Tristan Hoffman said. “He has power in the sprints and he has the fitness and the mental strength. He will only improve.”

Hoffman added that Kolar could lose a few more kilograms and become used to the speeds that the professional peloton travels. He will have his chance because his schedule takes him to Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, Scheldeprijs, and possibility Paris-Roubaix.

He could bag his first win in Sarthe, Norway, Luxembourg or some of the other stage races that he will face. Or maybe even against Sagan at the national championships in June.

“I want to do good in sprints, which is what I’m doing right now. I hope to keep up my good form,” Kolar said.

“What I learned in the amateur races is that I need good positioning and timing to pull off a win. It’s the same in the professionals but you are going a lot faster!”