Zakarin dreams big after Vuelta podium

Ilnur Zakarin dreams of winning a grand tour after riding to third overall at the 2017 Vuelta a España.

Ilnur Zakarin believes he has the legs to deliver Russia’s next grand tour victory.

The 28-year-old Katusha rider said his third place at the Vuelta a España only boosts his confidence going into 2018.

“I want to win a grand tour,” Zakarin told the Spanish daily MARCA. “I don’t care if it’s the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, but I dream of winning one of them.”

Zakarin has emerged as the best Russian rider of his generation. Since joining the World Tour in 2015 following a doping ban at 19, he’s been posting promising results, including victory at the 2015 Tour de Romandie and a stage win at the 2015 Giro d’Italia. He confirmed that with a stage win at the 2016 Tour de France, and then rode to fifth overall in this year’s Giro before hitting the podium with third in the Vuelta.

“It’s a dream come true to be on the Vuelta podium,” he told MARCA. “If it wasn’t for a bad day in Andorra, I could have been in it for the win. To have fought for it all the way to the end makes it mean even more.”

Zakarin has yet to outline his goals for 2018, but his season will be focused on grand tours. The Giro-Vuelta double suited him well, but it also depends on what Tour officials come up with for next year’s route.

If he returns to the Tour, he knows he’ll square off against Chris Froome and Team Sky.

“Everyone is beatable, but we also have to recognize they are very good,” he said. “They have a very deep structure, with riders who could be leaders on other teams. It’s not always easy to maintain that united structure. It’s true that [Mikel] Landa and [Mikel] Nieve are leaving, but others will step up. It’s not easy to overcome Sky, but we won’t give up.”

The team undergoes a big shift for 2018, with the arrival of Marcel Kittel, Alex Dowsett, Ian Boswell and Nathan Haas, but Zakarin will remain their man for the grand tours.