Rafał Majka seems to be one of the biggest revelations of this year's Giro d'Italia. Polish rider was chosen to lead Bjarne Riis' Team Saxo-Tinkoff despite early season troubles with the knee and is now showing that the Dane's decision was right. Despite his young age, he proves that he's capable of leading the squad and fighting with the best riders in the world.
Majka has already showed his abilities during 2012 Vuelta a Espana where he worked for his team leader Alberto Contador. In fact, he'd been scheduled to ride Giro d'Italia 2012 and lead the team but the same knee injury excluded him from racing for a couple of months.
This year's e return was not so certain and simple as it may seem. Majka started racing in Catalunya - after a month of dealing with knee injury that renewed on February. He resumed trainings on March 10th, rode Catalunya and trained on the altitude for the first two weeks of April. The last check before Giro was Tour de Romandie where he went to train and get used to racing rhythm. He didn't finish the event as during stage 4 he decided to stop due to bad weather conditions.
Heading to Naples for the start of the Giro, he only had 12 racing days in his legs. Majka declared that a couple of days, perhaps a week, will be needed to let him get into the best shape. He is now back in action and is performing well, giving Riis reasons to fell that sigining him for the next three years after last year's Vuelta was a smart and well-considered idea.
It has been a good week for Majka so far. Young Pole stayed away from troubles on tricky descents and wet corners, following the GC contenders easily on every ascent - in sunshine and in the rain. The problems emerged however on the descents - rider from Zegartowice isn't taking much risk and chooses not to follow over certain speed. That costed him 34 seconds on a crazy stage to Marina di Ascea.
First week was really nervous. I had to be at the front all the time because things were changing very quickly - Majka told rowery.org during the first rest day. - There were a lot of crashes, the weather was simply awful. All that makes me a little tired after the first week.
23-year-old rider marks his debut as a team leader in a Grand Tour with Team Saxo-Tinkoff. It's been only a week and young rider managed to repeat the achievement of Joachim Halupczok - the first Polish rider to wear maglia bianca (1990). Today, after the first real mountain stage, is showing his potential, finishing 6th on the final climb of the day and climbing to 10th place in the general classification. - I'm happy to wear the white jersey. I think I can take it again later in the race - Majka declared yesterday. Today he's smiling on the podium and wearing best young rider jersey.
Majka is also happy to have the time trial behind him. 54.8 km technical route never seemed to suit him and his time trialling skills. As a pure climber, Majka admits that the fight against the clock is not really his thing. That changes, however.
- I've never ridden such a long time trial. It was really exhausting - especially last 15 km where I had to push really hard. It wasn't a bad performance, I'm satisfied with it. I lost a little time in the first technical part and on the descent but considering the length of the course - the result seems to be good.
Majka finished 31th, losing 3:27 to victorious Alex Dowsett of Movistar. This only indicates the progress he has made - a year ago such a result wouldn't be possible. Before today's stage Rafał was sitting 16th overall and looking forward to improving his situation. When I asked him what are his expectations and what is he planning to do, he replied:
- I don't know, honestly. It's been a good race for me so far, I can fight for the general classification. I've nevr done such a big race riding for myself, so I have no idea how my body will react to such an effort. But it's going to be ok, my shape is getting better and better.
Today "Rafa" is 10th in the GC and is looking forward to next tough stages. Saxo-Tinkoff's DS Dan Frost says that the time for Rafał comes in the third week, when the real mountains start and where every rider will struggle to survive. But this is Giro, you can never tell what happens next. Time will tell.