Cycling’s “bigs” have been swinging for the fences since racing resumed last month. Julian Alaphilippe, Tadej Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert are already hitting home runs in the opening days of 2021.
So where is Marc Hirschi, one of the revelations of 2020?
UAE-Team Emirates officials confirmed to VeloNews that Hirschi will make his season debut at the Volta a Catalunya on March 22.
With Hirschi’s season goals coming stacked up later in the season, including the Tour de France and Olympic Games, the budding Swiss star is pedaling a little slower out of the gate than some of his higher profile peers in 2021.
The 22-year-old Hirschi has been training at altitude at Spain’s Teide volcano, and team officials confirmed Hirschi will race the weeklong Catalunya tour March 22-28 ahead of a full press on the Ardennes classics.
Also read: Marc Hirschi looks to conquer the classics
“I have many [goals], the Ardennes classics are somewhere I can do well I think, as I have in the past. Then to do a good Tour de France and then also the Olympics and world championships,” Hirschi said in an interview this week with bike sponsor Colnago. “My first goal was to settle into the new team, and thanks to the warm welcome I received. I feel I’ve achieved that one.”
Last year, Hirschi was one of the revelations of the racing season marked by COVID -19 and a rescheduled calendar.
Following the lockdown, Hirschi blazed through the second half of the rescheduled 2020 calendar like a warm knife through butter, winning a stage at the Tour de France in his grand tour debut in flamboyant attacking style. He backed that up by barnstorming to bronze in the world road championships, taking the flowers at Flèche Wallonne, and finishing second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in his final three days of racing in 2020.
Hirschi has been a bit under the radar, however, since his abrupt, high-profile departure from Team DSM for UAE Emirates in January.
Still only 22, this will be Hirschi’s third season in the WorldTour, but some have wondered why he’s been out of the frame while some of the peloton’s other top stars are lighting it up in every race they start.
Hirschi isn’t the only pro easing into the new season. A few other top riders have also come into the 2021 season a bit later than normal, especially after racing so late into the fall in 2020. Vuelta a España champion Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) both debuted this week at Paris-Nice, while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January, also raced for the first time in 2021 at Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday.
Other riders scheduled to debut at Catalunya next week include Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), 2020 Tour stage-winner Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and EF Education-Nippo’s Jonathan Caicedo.
Talking to journalists in January in a video call, Hirschi said he was not allowed to reveal details of his deal that will see him race in UAE Emirates colors through the end of 2023. Reports in the Swiss media said the three-year contract was worth millions of euros, representing a huge pay increase from his relatively low salary he was earning at Team DSM as a second-year neo-pro in 2020.
Where will Hirschi fit in the UAE-Emirates pecking order?
Another big question mark for Hirschi coming into the season is how he will fit into UAE Emirates, especially with his racing style so similar to 2020 Tour winner and team captain Pogačar.
In January, Hirschi insisted that there will be plenty of space for himself and Pogačar. Hirschi is expected to lead in the Ardennes classics, and slot into a helper’s role for Pogačar at the Tour later this summer. It’s unlikely their schedule will crossover too much, except at the Tour, the Ardennes classics and perhaps Itzulia Basque Country in April.
Hirschi is expected to race on home roads in what could be a first test for the GC at the Tour de Suisse, while Pogačar will head to the Critérium du Dauphiné in June to hone his form ahead of the Tour.
Hirschi also said he doesn’t harbor any pretensions about trying to battle for the GC at a race like the Tour, but admitted that he will not have such a free-wheeling role as he did last year at Sunweb (now Team DSM), where he went on the attack in several stages in the 2020 Tour before finally coming up a winner in a daring solo raid into Sarran in stage 12.
“Tadej and I often raced against each other as juniors, and we always respected each other,” said Hirschi, who beat Pogačar to win the 2018 U23 world road title.
“I’m glad to race with him,” Hirschi said in January. “It will be interesting to see how my body reacts in the Tour when I am up at the front for three weeks to help Tadej. I don’t know that yet.”
If Hirschi’s been out of the spotlight so far in 2021, that’s likely to change very fast. With Catalunya barely 10 days away and the Ardennes beckoning, he’ll soon be back in the headlines again.