In RadioShack tenure, Fuglsang learns to fight

Fuglsang hopes to perform well in Colorado, but down the road has a Tour win on his mind

DURANGO, Colorado (VN) — The RadioShack-Nissan stint didn’t pan out for Jakob Fuglsang. But one thing he learned in his time there may serve him better down the line than a year of racing the grand tours ever could.

“I learned a lot. I learned to keep fighting when it looks not perfect, and everything is not going to the plan,” the 27-year-old Dane told VeloNews on the eve of the USA Pro Challenge start in Durango.

“At the end of the day, it’s not been a bad year for me because I had to get to get to where I am now. And I believe that I got stronger, and maybe also more sure of what I actually want.”

And what he wants, plainly, is to win the Tour de France.

“My goal for now is to win the Tour one day. If it’s possible, if I’m ever going to make it, I don’t know yet. But that’s my goal. It’s a high goal. But I’m willing to go for it,” he said.

For Fuglsang, the 2012 season has been one of frustration. He’s languished at home or at lesser races while his teammates have raced the grand tours, and he’s publicly criticized manager Johan Bruyneel, who he says left him out of the sport’s biggest races because the manager was sure Fuglsang had already signed with another team, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank.

“I think I have the right to be disappointed,” said Fuglsang, who finished 11th in the 2011 Vuelta a España. “I’m a bike rider, and I want to race. And when I don’t get that possibility then of course I’m disappointed, mainly also because I believe that I was ready.

“I believe I was kept off the Tour team because Johan Bruyneel, he was sure I signed a contract with Saxo Bank earlier, and he didn’t want me to take points, or he wanted to punish me somehow. Could also be that he just didn’t believe that I fit in the selection.”

Fuglsang learned to fight, all right — both on the road and in the media.

The promising stage racer has also been able to work on his road captainship this year, winning two stage races, the tours of Luxembourg and Austria. He has since signed with Astana, where he’ll share a team with Italian Vincenzo Nibali, one of the sport’s best stage racers.

Fuglsang raced for Saxo Bank during 2009-10, then moved to Leopard-Trek for 2011. He moved to RadioShack when the two teams merged and, even though he’s seen limited action in the sport’s biggest races this year, he said it wasn’t for naught.

“No, no; for sure, not a wasted year. I got the win in Luxembourg and also in Austria. I’m really happy and really proud of those two wins,” he said.

“It’s never easy to win bike races, that’s for sure. To win those two races was something new and really important for me. Luxembourg. Also Austria, mainly of course, because I wasn’t selected for the Tour, and second of all, the way I won the race, by attacking on the queen stage and leaving everybody behind, winning the stage and taking the jersey. That was something special. That was a really, really nice feeling.”

It’s clear Fuglsang thinks he belongs on the biggest stages. But he knows they aren’t the only stages in all of cycling. Take Colorado, for example.

“I do believe and think that I belong at those races. But at the end of the day, those aren’t the only races in cycling. A race like Colorado here — it’s also a beautiful race, and for sure there’s going to be some really good racing as well,” he said.

Fuglsang said he hopes to leave an impact on the Colorado race but is also realistic. It’s his first prolonged effort at altitude, and he took a break after the Olympics. He won’t be tasked with the team’s sole general classification effort, as RadioShack brings a team laden with all-rounders, such as Chris Horner and Matthew Busche, fresh off a second-place showing at the Tour of Utah.

“I think it’s going to be a hard race, with altitude. For sure, that’s going to be the most important thing here — to do the right tactic and not to blow yourself up,” Fuglsang said. “It’s so disgusting. Your lungs, they are burning. For the first time today, I did a little effort. Afterwards. The burning in your lungs. It’s like, ‘I didn’t even go hard.’”