Kreuziger supports Astana's ambitions in Contador's absence

Roman Kreuziger escape, Vuelta a Espana 2010, stage 9

Czech rider Roman Kreuziger will lead Astana at the Giro d'Italia in May 2011, his first three-week assignment following the departure of the team's star, Alberto Contador.

"The Giro is a great race and I think I stand a chance to make the podium there," Kreuziger wrote on his website. "We will put together the strongest team possible, so it could be interesting."

Kreuziger announced in August that he annulled his contract a year early with Liquigas so that he could join Astana. The move allows him freedom, since team Liquigas has two leaders for the Grand Tours: Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and Vuelta a España winner Vincenzo Nibali.

He has already met with Astana's team directors to discuss next year's plans.

"We have come to the conclusion that it wouldn't be a bad idea to fight for the podium at the Giro. They are interested in succeeding in this race, and for me it is a challenge as well. I would like to point out that they didn't push me into this decision, it was up to me."

The 24-year-old has never raced Italy's three-week tour. However, he has proved himself by winning week-long stage races - 2008 Tour of Switzerland and 2009 Tour of Romandy - and placing in the top ten at the Tour de France.

At the Tour de France this year and last year he finished ninth behind Contador. His last three-week race was the Vuelta a España, where he helped Nibali win the overall classification.

Kreuziger will decide after next year's Giro d'Italia if he will race the Tour de France or wait and race the Vuelta a España.

"At this moment, the options still remain open," he said. "I think I could do two Grand Tours, but I wouldn't definitely ride for the overall results at the Tour."

His decision may be tactical as Astana faces a battle to receive a first division licence and an invitation from the Tour de France. Contador may be suspended for testing positive for clenbuterol on the Tour de France's second rest day this year.

The UCI is working with WADA to determine if, as Contador says, the clenbuterol came from contaminated Spanish meat. The drug is banned in sport because it helps breathing and aids in body toning.

"I can't help laughing at the speculation that we won't ride the Tour next year," said Kreuziger. "All I can say is that the Astana team will show up at the start line."

The ASO prohibited Astana from taking to the start line in 2008 because of Alexandre Vinokourov's ejection from the race the pervious year for doping. The decision helped Contador decide to race, and win, both the Giro and Vuelta.

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