Saxo Bank will be firing full-blast today at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège later this week as one of the pre-race favorites for victory.
With the one-two punch of the Schleck brothers, the team can rightly expect to be at the sharp end of the action.
There’s one name to watch on the Saxo Bank roster who will likely be playing a supporting role this week, but he won’t be for long.
Jacob Fuglsang is poised to follow-up on his highly successful rookie season last year, with an eye at a possible Tour de France start later this season.
But first the 25-year-old Dane will lend a helping hand at this week’s Ardennes classics.
“I go to there to help the Schleck brothers. Both of them are going very strong. Frankie had a bad crash, he’s OK. They both will be going very strong,” Fuglsang told VeloNews. “I think some day I can do well in these races. Right now I am here to help.”
The highly touted Fuglsang switched from mountain biking following the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, riding as a stagiaire with Saxo Bank before joining the team full-time in 2009.
Last year, Fuglsang made his debut in the Ardennes classics with respectable results, including 30th at Amstel Gold Race.
Those spring classics results only previewed what was a spectacular rookie season, with overall victories at the Tour of Denmark and the Tour of Slovenia, sixth at both the Volta a Catalunya and the Dauphiné Libéré.
Hobbled by some early season knee problems, Fuglsang has been discreet through the first part of his sophomore season, riding to 58th at Paris-Nice and 38th at the Vuelta al País Vasco.
“I have been struggling with finding the shape this year. Now it’s coming and I feel strong for the classics,” he said. “I had some knee problems from the middle of December, when I couldn’t really train as I wanted to in January and in some part of February. From March, I can train as I like. I had a good period between Paris-Nice and I am getting the race rhythm back.”
Well-rounded and a complete rider, Fuglsang can climb well, has a lively sprint and is improving in the time trial.
Last year, he got his first taste of grand tours, riding to 56th overall at the Vuelta a España, a result that doesn’t reflect how well he endured his first crack at three weeks of racing. A crash in the first week derailed his GC aspirations, but he sucked it up and made it all the way to Madrid.
He regained his kick midway through the race, riding to third behind winner Simon Gerrans and runner-up Ryder Hesjedal in a breakaway to Murcia in stage 10. He was second behind Damiano Cunego in the summit finish to La Pandera in stage 14 and rode into another winning breakaway to Avila in stage 18 to take third behind winner Philip Deignan.
“It was a good experience for the first grand tour. It was hard, but I had some good stage results. I was supposed to go for the overall, but I had a bad crash,” he said. “I recovered from the crash, and I had some good stages, so it was good for me. I have a good feeling about three-week races.”
So much so, that Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis signed Fuglsang to a two-year contract extension at the end of the 2009 season.
While Riis is still looking for a sponsor to carry the team into next season, Riis has no doubt that Fuglsang has a bright future.
“Jakob is without a doubt one of the biggest talents in cycling and the season he has underlined his huge potential. To make a top professional debut like this is hardly seen before and I have no doubt that Jacob can go far in the sport,” Riis said last fall. “Without overestimating, I would not be surprised if he is seen in the forefront of the Tour de France within a few years.”
That’s just where Fuglsang hopes to set his sights. He’s on the long list for Saxo Bank’s Tour nine and will race the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse as preparation for a possible Tour debut.
“My dream would be to win the yellow jersey in the Tour, that’s a hard one,” he said. “It’s still at least some years ahead, I still need to try to do the Tour and do the GC in the Tour, then afterwards we can see if I can make it or not.”
Fuglsang is firmly hooked on the road and says he won’t be returning to mountain biking for a shot at a gold medal in London in 2012.