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So this is it. My final grand tour as a professional rider.
I’ll admit that the moment has crept on me since the start of the season but I’m really looking forward to the Giro d’Italia and what I hope will be one final three-week adventure that ends in success.
It feels like yesterday that I was packing for my first grand tour as a neo-pro back in 2010 but I’m just as motivated for my last one as I was for my first.
Having a rider like Richard Carapaz as the leader of the team takes the pressure off my shoulders and gives the team something to look forward to, and to aim for.
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I want to do a good job for him, and for the team, but I also want to give the race a fair crack and make sure that I leave it all out there on the road.
But to be honest, at 37 years of age, my driving ambition at this point is to be up there with the last 10 guys in the mountains. That would be a great way to bow out of grand tour racing. I want to be competitive with the best guys, and that’s almost a bit easier when you’re on a team with someone like Carapaz, who can win the race. My ambition is to be up there, and alongside him.
In that sense, nothing really changes in terms of the preparation. My coach got me ready with the mindset of someone who was going there to try and win. That’s not to distract from the team’s primary goal but what it means is that I’ll hopefully be there in the big mountains when a lot of the GC riders are on their own. Having two of us riding together could give us an advantage both from a tactical point of view but also in terms of driving each other’s morale.
We all know that the Giro can be hugely unpredictable too, so having a few cards to play can make a big difference. I know firsthand that a break can often go up the road and take time, and whether that involves Richard, me, or someone else from the team, we need to always be attentive.
I can’t guarantee it but there are probably going to be stages when a massive break goes up the road, especially if there’s a stalemate between the leading teams. There are other stages that you need to get through and survive, like the ones with crazy finishes. It all means that you need to get to the first rest day in the best possible position and from there, reassess where things stand.
When I look at the route though for this year, all I can say is that this is a proper race. There’s no place to hide and whoever is standing on the top step in Verona will be a thoroughly deserving winner.
On a purely personal level though, the Giro means a huge deal to me.
It’s such a special race and one that my career has been linked to throughout my time in the sport. I obviously did my amateur racing in Italy, so I’d watch the race when I was based there, and from there I learned and experienced just how important the Giro was for the Italian population and their passionate cycling fans. There’s a connection between the race and the people that’s hard to put into words but when you’re in that environment it rubs off on you, and it’s truly special to be part of it.
I was lucky enough to have the pink jersey for three days in my first grand tour, and honestly, it was incredible. Even to this day, they are some of the nicest memories that I’ve had in cycling. So to try and close things out in terms of my grand tour career, it’s a special moment.
Wearing the maglia rosa was just unbelievable. Every town and village that we went through, people were just shouting ‘maglia rosa’ and I quickly learned to understand that they were not shouting my name but for the jersey. In moments like that you realize that you’re just lucky enough to hold onto that jersey for a fleeting moment, and in such a historic race. Wearing the maglia rosa is such an iconic moment in any rider’s career, so I feel truly lucky to have enjoyed that.
Back in 2010, I roomed with Laurent Didier. I think we were both debutants actually, and I remember bringing back the jersey to the room. It was like a dream. I won’t say that I slept in it but I definitely remember laying it on top of my suitcase.
The most vivid memory I have was turning to Laurent at one point and saying “I feel a bit unwell” and sure enough the next day I had a terrible fever after an awful night’s sleep. If it was any other race or circumstance I think that I would have pulled out of the race but I got through it.
This time around we were in solo rooms and at this stage in my career, I’m happy with that. With two kids at home, you almost go to races to enjoy a good sleeping rhythm. Right now my waking time is about 6 am after going to bed at around 10 so it takes about a week to break that. Anyone who is a parent with two children under four years of age would sympathize with me on that.
People have asked me if I’ll try and savor the race as much as possible, and that’s a really good question. My default, all the way through my career, has been to keep myself switched on but at Tirreno-Adriatico this year I had the exact question come up in conversation with another rider on a different team.
He was encouraging me to enjoy my last year as much as possible, and I get that sentiment, but I don’t think that I know how to do that. Racing is just so hard, and so full-gas now. There’s so much pressure and grand tours and drama, that trying to minimize that can be hard.
I don’t know exactly how the next few weeks will go but I do know that I’ll embrace the challenge of what’s to come. Like I said, this is a special race and if I can create just a few more special memories, well then maybe I’ll be able to take Tadej’s advice and savor them all that more.