We are already in the middle of “winter” preparations for the coming season – and I still owe you a report I promised a while ago, but never found the time to tackle. I don’t think much about the past, unless someone asks me. My thoughts are focused on the future, on trainings and the preparation for the first challenges of the new year. But a promise is a promise and I must write this for all people who read me and follow me on all social networks!
Now I can say that in the 2019 season we didn’t really follow any pre-agreed plan. Since the first race in Portugal, it has all been a coincidence. The race in Portugal I won was not planned, much less the Grand Tour, the race in Spain. But throughout the season things ran in such a way that after winning the one-week race across California (which was my initial goal for the season), we started thinking silently about “skipping” our plan so I could already start at my first Grand Tour in the current year. After discussing this with the team we decided that I would start, to help captain Aru, and I would get my chance at some of the stages where I could break away. So, on 22 August when the teams were presented, I stood on the stage with seven other teammates, and it was really amazingly beautiful, and nobody had any idea that we were in for a “catastrophe” on the very first day. The next day, a Friday, was free with only some media obligation, and on Saturday it became serious.
Stage 1: team time trial TTT, for which we prepared a bit beforehand. On the day of the stage we rode the route twice and, in our heads, “recorded” all dangers awaiting us on the 13.4-km long, completely flat time trial route. We warmed up well on training devices and did great until the first split time, with a minimum distance from the best – and then it happened. A large amount of water on the road just before a small bend we planned to ride with full speed – and all but one ended on the ground and in the fence. Of course, we didn’t plan such a scenario, so we didn’t have any rescue plan either. We reacted with complete confusion. Captain Aru got up with someone else and continued the ride. I got up quickly, first “checked” myself and saw there was nothing serious, just a few abrasions, but I couldn’t continue because the gear lever on my bike was broken. I waited for the spare bike and together with another rider continued to chase for the first two. Of course, they quickly realised that only two finishing the race won’t mean anything, as the time of the fourth rider counts, so they waited for us. We lost a lot of time – over a minute. After we arrived at the finish, there was chaos next to our bus and inside it. All but one ended on the ground and were of course more or less “scraped” from all sides – and the wounds had to be treated as soon as possible. A hard day, physically (because of the injuries), and even more psychologically speaking. The race didn’t even begin, and we already had a minus of over a minute, we were all tattered and not even sure will we all be able to continue the next day, because some were hit much harder than me!
Stage 2: for us, it came too quickly. Fortunately, I didn’t get badly injured the day before and I slept fairly well. I already had scabs on my body, but not all were that lucky; but we could all continue. The second stage was 200 km long and given our condition wasn’t easy for us. Personally, I felt well, and I was there in the decisive moments when full force was required on the last slope. Aru managed to escape at the downward slope, so I was saved some effort and could just follow the others who were left, I sprinted at the end and came in eighth which was excellent. I was happy and satisfied with the result. Generally speaking, the second stage was “hot” (because of the weather) and harder than expected.
Stage 3: on paper this stage was a little easier, and we counted on the finishing sprint. Unfortunately, a short peak just before the finish and the sharp pace among the fastest prevented our sprinter Gaviria from staying with the group, so we were a little disappointed. Two other riders waited for him, but the front was racing towards the finishing line and they couldn’t join in. I came in with the front and was happy with my day.
Stage 4: a flat, calm stage designed for sprinters. We even had a bit of rain which was quite refreshing. Otherwise only the last hour when the speed was really high was a bit stressful. Our sprinter Gaviria managed to come in third and we are satisfied. But in our thoughts, we are already at stage 5, with the finishing line up a slope.
Stage 5: as I said, this was the first stage were cards had to be disclosed. In this stage we allowed a breakaway, but all was under control. I felt well on the final slope and rode it at my own pace in the end. In the overall standings I lost 30 seconds against Roglič and Valverde but was very happy with the entire stage.
Stage 6: a dynamic stage of 200 m with quite a few slopes of categories 2 and 3 and with a “light” finishing slope. The first hour and a half was very hard, as the teams did not allow breakaways and consequently the race was very fast and stressful in this part. After a successful breakaway things calmed down a bit. On the last slope the Astana team controlled matters, but around 1.5 km before the finishing line I decided to put my legs to a test. I knew that those who broke away finished already as they had a lead of over 5 minutes, but nevertheless I jumped out of the group and managed to finish 2 seconds before the group. I felt well, my legs were as they should be, and the consequences of my fall were completely healed.
Stage 7: a dynamic stage with a very steep finish which isn’t really my cup of tea. The Bahrain Merida team took matters in their own hands from the very beginning, and later they were joined by the Moviestar riders who were set to catch those who broke away and win this stage. The finish was really very steep, and the weather was very hot. I came in together with captain Aru a bit later than Roglič and Valverde. But I was still happy as I came in seventh and was again among the Top 10.
Stage 8: on paper this stage looked easy. The plan was to bring one rider to break away, and we managed to do it. In the second half of the stage we got some rain, but nothing serious. For a difference this day passed quite calmly, but in our thoughts, we already moved to Andorra where the first real mountain stage would be taking place!
Stage 9: the first short mountain stage (only 94 km), but with three longer slopes and a finishing ascent. The first slope passed quite calmly, but the real thing started on the second. A fast and technical descent followed. On the last slope attacks started right away and I had problems following, but I managed to join in every time. Although the finish was quite far away, I fought with myself and bit the group which was becoming smaller and smaller. Then came a strong thunderstorm with rain, hail and a cool spell, together with a sand road. On this part I pushed as much as I could and tried to achieve an additional selection. Due to the strong storm and poor visibility we didn’t know where anyone was. Quintana appeared next to me and I just followed him, and suddenly we were alone. Soler who was leading the race at the time waited for Quintana and tried to help him. At that moment I realised that I could win this stage if I “played” it correctly in the finish. So, I just waited for Soler to do his job. As soon as he eased off, I attacked and rode to my first victory at my first GT. Now, looking back and joking, I can say that I hurried to finish this stage as my Urška was waiting for me! It was amazing, with one word, CRAZY! My joy, the happiness with the team, the joy at home – at home and in Slovenia.
This was the last day of the first third of the race. A day of rest followed. If I had to summarise the first part of the race in one sentence, it would be: “From hell to heaven.” It started in the worst possible way and ended so good it couldn’t be better.
The continuation of the next week will follow.