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Big shoes for Majka to fill at 2016 Giro

SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — Alberto Contador might not be at the Giro d’Italia to defend his title this season, but his Tinkoff squad still has reason to be optimistic about a claiming another pink jersey.

Rafal Majka will lead the team in Italy this May, and after a podium finish in the 2015 Vuelta a España, the 26-year-old from Poland looks to be among the top contenders in the race.

“I like the Giro,” Majka told VeloNews at the Tour de San Luis, where he kicked off his 2016 season. “It’s a really nice race. It’s hard, [though] I hope it’s going to be good weather, not like two years ago. We’ll see.

“We need to do a really good Giro d’Italia.”

Majka, who already counts two Giro top 10s on his palmares, has steadily developed as a stage racing talent, gradually putting up better and better results in one-week events and three-week events alike over the past few years.

Two stage wins and the king of the mountains jersey in the 2014 Tour de France signaled that he’d reached a new level as a racer, and he followed up that strong campaign with another Tour stage win in 2015 and a third place at the Vuelta. Whether that qualifies him to take on a rider like Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali at this year’s Giro remains to be seen, but now that he has proven himself a legitimate GC option, Majka is keen to give it a whirl.

“Vincenzo has won the three big tours, the Tour, the Giro, the Vuelta,” Majka said. “He’s a really good rider but … I have my objective.

“I’m sure Vincenzo wants to win the Giro d’Italia but I’ll go there, and I’ll fight, and I’ll try with these big riders — Vincenzo, [Alejandro] Valverde, other riders. I need to try.”

A raw climbing talent at the start of his career, Majka has grown into a more complete rider. He concedes that he needs to work on his time trial ahead of the upcoming Giro, which includes three TTs, but he has already made significant progress against the clock since his early years as a pro.

That development into a bona fide grand tour contender comes at just the right time for Tinkoff. Contador, 33, has indicated that he is nearing the end of his career, which would leave a big hole in the Tinkoff roster. At the moment, Majka doesn’t want to think too much about filling those shoes long-term — and he’s also not quite sure that Contador will be out of cycling at the end of the year anyway.

“Alberto is Alberto; I’m me,” he said. “But I think Alberto will stay in cycling. He’s too young. He’s a really good captain in the team. For us, it’d be better if he stayed more time in the team, more years. I’ve grown up with him in the team.”

Indeed, Majka has had a front-row seat to the always-exciting show that is Alberto Contador’s impressive career, which has undoubtedly helped him develop as a rider. “When you’re with Alberto for four years, that’s good experience. Not only the racing but also the training,” he said.

The Giro is a main objective for Majka this season, but he also expects to be at Contador’s side when it matters in the Tour. And even as a grand tour podium finisher in his own right, Majka seems content to play a support role to Contador when necessary.

“After [the Giro], I’ll help Alberto in the Tour, and I’m also happy with that,” he said. “Working for Alberto, I’m so happy because I like to see how it goes with the big riders like Alberto. I learn a lot from him.”