FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) is confident in obtaining top results in the grand tours, including the 2018 Tour de France this July, after placing third behind Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali in the Vuelta a España last year.
Zakarin, racing Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, will head a beefed up Katusha team this July that includes American Ian Boswell as a mountain domestique and Marcel Kittel leading the sprints.
“Now, I understand that I can have really good results in the grand tours,” Zakarin told VeloNews. “This year I’m concentrating on my condition just for the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.”
“I began with some big steps. Three years ago, I was nobody, but I had great results in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. I hope for the same in the Tour de France this year.”
Those big steps saw Zakarin win a Giro stage in 2015, the Finhaut-Emosson summit finish stage in the 2016 Tour, and place fifth overall in the 2017 Giro. In 2017, he returned from a break to back up the Giro placing with a podium spot in the Vuelta behind Froome and Nibali.
“For the moment, there’s no pressure,” Zakarin continued. “If the team doesn’t push the riders too much, and we can take it easier, then I can have the best result possible.”
After the 2017 season, the WorldTour team hired Ian Boswell from Team Sky to help with Zakarin’s results. It’s a win-win situation: Zakarin has a new mountain helper and someone to practice English with, and Boswell will finally be able to debut in the biggest race in cycling.
“The only big change for me is that Ian joins. I hope for his help in the Tour, he should do a great job. I know already Ian very well. I like him, he’s a good guy,” he added.
“Besides Ian, will have Robert Kiserlovski and Pavel Kochetkov to help in the climbs, which we missed last year at lot, good climbers.”
Sports director Dimitri Konyshev said that the team is not putting pressure on its 28-year-old leader.
“We started the season a little later and a little easier, so he’s not showing the same condition at the start now, but we should see that later in the Tour,” Konyshev said.
“It is already two years that he’s ridden as GC leader, this is the third, he has the self-confidence and he knows team around him.
“Boswell will be a very important rider for Zak. He knows what he’s doing. I like this guy.”
Katusha wants to see what is possible in the Tour de France after a stage win in his only appearance in 2016 and top Giro and Vuelta overall placings in 2017. They need “to start trying to win” in the Tour with Zakarin.
“A top five would be great, he can do that. He can do a top three. But I don’t want to push him to do the things that maybe he’s not ready to do. If we don’t repeat any of the Vuelta mistakes, we will be on the Tour podium.”