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"Of course [we deserve an invitation]! As a new team, we have been successful this season. Ciolek can win in the sprints which means we have the chance to take the leader's jersey, and we can also win stages from breakaways,&q...

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02.11.2013 @ 19:46 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ignatas Konovalovas was an integral part of the successful first season at professional continental level for MTN-Qhubeka and ended his season on a high by a great ride at the world championships. He now hopes that his team will be invited to the 2014 Giro d'Italia to become the first African team at a grand tour.

 

Ignatas Konovalovas surprised the entire world when the then 23-year-old won the final stage time trial of the 2009 Giro d'Italia. A bright future appeared to be lying ahead of the talented Lithuanian but he struggled to reach similar heights in the following seasons while riding for Cervelo Test Team and Movistar.

 

Prior to the 2013 season, he joined MTN-Qhubeka as one of a select few seasoned European professionals that should were signed to help the new professional continental team get off the ground at the highest level. Apart from great performances in his national championships, he failed to make any personal results but he was an integral part of the success that saw the team take 15 wins - among them a fabulous victory in Milan-Sanremo.

 

However, his season got off to a bad start when he was forced to abandon the Tirreno-Adriatico and didn't return to racing until the Brabantse Pijl in mid-April.

 

"This season started very well for me and I was very optimistic, " he told Ciciclismo Internacional. "I felt stronger than I did in February and March last year but I got injured in Tirreno-Adriatic. I suffered a rupture in my hamstring and had to stop completely for two weeks before I could start to train loghtly for 3 to 5 hours. I had to re-start my season from scratch and it took me a long time back."

 

Konovalovas overcame his bad start and surprised most at the brutal world championships road race. On a course that was one for the true climbers, the Lithuanian time trialist managed to stay with the favourites for most of the race before finishing 22nd.

 

"I am very happy to have won the national time trial championships and been second in the road race but above all I am delighted for being strong at the world championships.

 

"It was a really good race for me," he added. "Of course you also needed a bit of luck to avoid the crashes. Actually, I have never seen so many in a single race as I saw on that day but the roads were very slippery. I am not surprised by my performance. I know that I can perform well in such races when I feel good. I like compete in long races, to find places to recover, to save energy. It is like an elimination race because of the pace and the crashes. The peloton gets smaller and smaller for every pedal stroke. That suits me well. I had good legs and was very motivated."

 

With a successful first season in his legs, he is ready to continue the strong showing from his team in 2014.

 

"I want to get a strong start in the first spring classics and be really good in March and April where we could receive an invitation for a race like Paris-Nice," he said. "That would be my goal. Afterwards, everything will depend on our calendar. I really hope we are at the start of the Giro d'Italia. If so, that would be my next goal and in the second half, I always have the Worlds on my mind."

 

This year MTN-Qhubeka deliberately chose not to ask for a wildcard for the grand tours with the management preferring the team to get more experience before starting a three-week race. However, the team hopes to earn an invitation to the Giro in 2014 and Konovalovas thinks it would be well-deserved.

 

 "Of course [we deserve an invitation]! As a new team, we have been successful this season," he said. "Ciolek can win in the sprints which means we have the chance to take the leader's jersey, and we can also win stages from breakaways. . Furthermore, we would be the first African team in such an event. That would give a lot of publicity and opportunities for everybody, organizers, riders, sponsors and journalists."

 

Despite his team being a young one, his first impressions have been good.

 

"It is a very nice team," he said. "I never regretted my decision to come here. There is a great atmosphere, we had good results and have gradually started to understand each other."

 

Konovalovas ended his season in the Paris-Tours.

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