Rigoberto Urán is stepping into a leadership role for the grand tours with Belgian classics juggernaut Omega Pharma-Quick Step. The goal? To reach the podium again at the Giro d’Italia.
Omega Pharma will be focused on the spring classics in the coming weeks, but the team is widening its reach with the addition of Urán, the veteran Colombian who rode to second in last year’s Giro.
“The team has changed its philosophy a bit and now they want someone who can be on the podiums in the grand tours, and my first objective to reach the Giro podium,” Urán said in an interview released Wednesday. “That’s what I am working for. … I am confident and I only hope I can reach the form, and later it depends on the race, the crashes, the cold, the Giro is unique.”
The 27-year-old Urán rode discreetly to second overall in Italy last year with Sky in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ flame out. With his move to the Belgian team, the Colombian is aiming at the Giro as his primary target in the first half of the season.
Though Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will not return to defend his pink jersey, instead trying for yellow at the Tour de France, the Giro will see a deep field, counting Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and Riche Porte (Sky) among the pre-race favorites.
“People say, since I was second last year, why not win this year? There’s the problem, because those who won last year want to repeat it,” said Urán. “I am prepared mentally for whatever happens.”
Despite his relative young age, Urán has been a pro since 2006, and won the silver medal in the 2012 Olympic Games despite controversy that he might have sold the gold to Alexander Vinokourov, something Urán denies.
After three solid seasons with Sky, which included a stage win and the Giro podium last year, Urán earned the chance to be outright leader in one of cycling’s three-week tours.
Omega Pharma was looking for GC riders to complement its classics program and the sprint train being built up around Mark Cavendish, and found a perfect mix with Urán. At 5-foot-8 and 139 pounds, Urán can climb, sprint out of small groups, and is handy against the clock for such a small rider.
After spending most of his career as a stage-hunter and support rider, Urán admitted the change presents new challenges.
“It’s an important step in my career and it’s not easy,” Urán said of being a GC leader. “It’s a bigger commitment because you have a team around you, and you have to deliver. … There is more responsibility. When the team signs you at this level, what they want is that you win.”
Omega Pharma’s Rolf Aldag said it’s better for Urán to go to the Giro to aim for the outright victory rather than bet everything on the Tour de France when he realistically has no chance to win.
“It’s better for Rigoberto to go to the Giro, to fight for the win, to gain that experience of being a leader, and have a real chance to reach the podium,” Aldag told VeloNews. “Everyone speaks of the Tour, but it’s better to go step by step. Why not win the Giro first? It won’t be easy, but for his characteristics, he stands a better chance for the podium at the Giro than he does at the Tour.”
Urán will focus on his Giro preparation, but added that the Tour is still a possibility. Up next are Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Volta a Catalunya in March, before a return trip to Colombia to train at altitude ahead of the Tour de Romandie, and then the Giro.
For Urán, riding steady is the key to having a chance of becoming the first Colombian to win the pink jersey.
“The level is always very high, and no race is ever easy,” Urán said. “Consistency is very important over three weeks, and that’s something I’ve achieved over the years. Maybe I’ve lost a bit of explosiveness, but I have to train more to achieve a high level, and that’s the key of grand tours.”