Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nieve relishing facing the unknown

You'd be hard pressed to say Mikel Nieve is one of the best Grand Tour riders out there. Granted, he's always up there in the top ten and is the very definition of consistency, but he's yet to do better than tenth overall.

He's easily the best Grand Tour first-timer, though: He grabbed the queen-stage and tenth overall in his maiden Vuelta a España three years ago, and went on to replicate that exact same feat in his first ever Giro d'Italia a year later.

This summer, Nieve is set for leadership duties in his first ever Tour de France. So will he be celebrating a stage win and a top GC result at the Grand Boucle?

"Man, winning a stage in the Tour would be better than what I achieved in the Vuelta or the Giro, but we'll see", he told El Pedal de Frodo. "First I have to get there in shape, and then we'll see what I can do. I want to show myself at the top of my game. Where that will take me I don't know - I've never done the Tour and it's hard to predict anything. But, yeah, I would like to be among the frontrunners and fight for a stage win, of course I would like that... But before that, I've got to prepare myself as best I can and be in top shape when the race kicks off".

Leading Euskaltel in France, a team created to ride the Tour mind you, can be a burden for anyone. Nieve is no different, but says the pressure he puts on himself is just as big.

"Yes, (leading the team) comes with pressure", he said. "But it's also pressure I put on myself. I want to give the best of myself at that race, and if I give it all I've got, I can't ask for more.

"I imagine the Tour to be more or less like everyone says it is: that there's much tension, that it's the best race in the world, and that it's the race with the highest level of racing. Everyone who's going to that race prepares for it, and everyone's in shape.

"There's been a lot of crashing in the first week of the race the last few years, so you have to go there with respect, be careful and hope you avoid the spills and get to the mountains in good shape".

Despite taking on a number of high-calibre races last year, the Giro, the Tour de Suisse, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia and the Tour of Beijing to name but a few, the 28-year-old "only" clocked up 55 race days - that's 17 less than fellow team captain Igor Antón and even fewer than Samuel Sánchez, who was of course ruled out through injury for a big part of the year.

He didn't start out until the Clásica de Almeria came around in late February last season, and, though his calendar is yet to be released, he admits his 2013 race appointments differ from those of 2012 - and he's looking forward to it.

"I'm motivated. We've changed my racing schedule around a little bit from what we've done the last couple of years, and this year we'll be changing everything somewhat. And I've done my homework this winter - at least I've tried", he added half-jokingly. "Now we will see the results of it, but I think I've worked well, I've avoided mishaps, and I aspire to perform to high standard.

The Paris-Nice will be one of his biggest goals for the first half of the season, but he's reluctant to set any concrete objectives.

"First off we have to see how I'm feeling, and the race will put me in my place. To start with I'll try to be as far up as I can and see where it takes me", he said.

Euskaltel have of course been through a major overhaul this off-season what with the incorporation of non-Basques and the severing of ties with the Fundación Euskadi. Nieve isn't too worried though, predicting big things to come from some of his young team-mates.

"If Romain Sicard gets back to where he was, he's one of the biggest talents I've ever seen. And Ion Izagirre's Giro performance last year was really impressive", he enthused. "I think they can be the future of this team".

Had it with all the Armstrong news lately? Watch the epic clip below to be reminded of what cycling really is all about:

  Photo: Orbea

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