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Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger will go head-to-head for the first time in a Grand Tour this May at the Giro d'Italia. After five years, Kreuziger split with team Liquigas this winter to lead team Astana.
"It's a new and encouraging experience," Kreuziger told Spain's Ciclismo a Fondo. "It was a good decision to come here, and I can confirm, it was liberating."
The 24-year-old Czech began his professional career with Italy's top team, Liquigas in 2006. Team management took note of him in 2004 after he won the junior World Championships and offered him a contract midway through 2005.
He won the Tour of Switzerland in 2008 and Tour of Romandy in 2009, and in the last two editions of the Tour de France, finished ninth overall. However, with both Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and Vuelta a España winner Vincenzo Nibali in Liquigas' ranks, Kreuziger thought it was best to change teams. In August, he announced that he annulled his contract a year early so that he could join Astana.
"I didn't do it earlier only because there was a contract keeping tied to Liquigas," he added. "I felt that I needed a change of scenery to grow."
Kreuziger dismissed Nibali's chances to win the Tour de France early last year. He named himself, Robert Gesink and Andy Schleck as future winners and said that Nibali "has a small motor."
Roman Kreuziger in last year's Tour de France
Nibali went on to win the Vuelta a España and now, wants to focus on winning his home Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia. Last year, he finished third overall while helping Basso win. This year, the 26-year-old will lead team Liquigas and face off with Kreuziger, 18 months younger.
"We'll have to see how he goes now that he has the added weight of responsibility," said Kreuziger. "I am calm, I know his weak points."
Kreuziger will race the GP Friuli, Paris-Nice, Giro del Trentino and the Tour of Romandy, and skip the Ardennes Classics prior to the Giro d'Italia. He'll lead team Astana at the Giro d'Italia, May 7 to 29, and Alexander Vinokourov will lead at the Tour de France.
"Psychologically, I think I can handle it well," said Kreuziger. "The team will do the best it can for me. I have to finish off the team's work."
Cycling Weekly's Giro d'Italia section
Basso confirms early season plans with Lugano win
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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