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Winner of five races last season plus stage three of the Vuelta a Andalucia this year, Gerald Ciolek spearheads the MTN Qhubeka team in its first-ever Grand Tour and knows that he offers perhaps the best chance for the team to land a headline-grabbing performance.
The German sprinter will line out in the 12.6 kilometre opening team time trial on Saturday and while the developing team is not expected to trouble the fastest squads there, he will look to make his mark on the stages which follow.
“It is great to be part of the project,” Ciolek told CyclingTips on the eve of the Vuelta a España. “We are all part of the first African team going to a Grand Tour. I think that is a big thing. My personal goals to be good in the flat stages and, if possible, to win a stage there.
“To do a good Vuelta would be really nice. It is probably one of the last races I am doing this year, so it is the last chance to get some good results.”
Ciolek placed a solid 27th overall in the recent Tour of Denmark, showing his general level of form is solid. More importantly, he was second on stage two of the race, finishing just behind a resurgent Andrea Guardini (Astana).
While a win would have been the best possible outcome, he’s satisfied with what he did there.
“The race went well for myself,” he said. “It was good because Denmark was the last preparation for the Vuelta. Also the team was coming from altitude. So getting close to victory is nice. It would have been nicer to take the win, but the stage showed that my shape was good and the team also worked perfectly on that day.
“The legs are good now. All the preparation was focussed on the Vuelta. Before Denmark we trained hard in Livigno, then did the race. Everything went as planned, so it is good.”
Ciolek moved to the team in advance of the 2013 season and immediately got off to a strong start, winning a stage of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, netting two top four stage finishes in Tirreno Adriatico, winning Milan-Sanremo and later taking stages in the Bayern Rundfahrt, the Tour of Austria and the Tour of Britain.
This year has been a little quieter with just one win, but he remains motivated despite not equalling the same level of results.
“It’s been a combination of little things,” he explained, talking about the differences between the two seasons. “We definitely had some issues about the race programme this year, in that we probably were racing a bit too much. Going from race to race doesn’t make it easier to get results there.
“In the end it is about little things. I started the season with a crash and got sick one or two times when it wasn’t the right moment. But I am still happy about the season. I think the sprint went all right, even if I didn’t have the same results as last year. The race in Denmark also went well for me.”
Ciolek has a further year left on his contract and will once again be in the African team’s colours in 2015. It is pushing hard to get an invite to the Tour de France, a race Ciolek hasn’t ridden since 2011.
Returning to the event would be important for his career, particularly as he will be in contract year, but he said Friday that he preferred not to look that far ahead.
“At the moment I am not thinking about the Tour de France. I am at the start of the Vuelta and we first have to see how this goes,” he explained. “Then we can think about next year.”