Today, 9th March 2020 is the 11th day that I remain locked in “my” hotel room. It’s not really mine alone, as I share it with teammate Erik Bystrom. Who would have thought that things would get so complicated? Nobody. Well, let’s go step by step, because the purpose and goal of all this was a stage race across the UAE.
We arrived in Dubai for our home race three days before its start. Partly in order to adapt to the new environment and especially to summer temperatures, and partly because of press conferences and press releases. We did some training together with the guys from the team and socialised a bit. There were seven stages planned for the race and the stage profiles were not exactly demanding. Two stages finishing on a slope – i.e. mountainous, one hilly and four flat. As a team, we had a plan for good results, both on the flat stages, which should end with a group sprint (Gaviria), as well as on the mountains where I myself would try my luck too.
On Sunday, the first stage in the flat land passed quite calmly, without the expected wind, but the temperatures were high. It was a little tense only in the last 15 km when the battles for positioning before the sprint began. Unfortunately, our Gaviria remained closed just before the sprint and any chance for a good placement was lost. I spent this day quite calmly and without any major stress.
The second stage was quite easy, the only problem was again the high temperature around 35 °C. I tried to catch a deductible second on the intermediate sprint but failed narrowly. In the last part of the stage, the anticipation was again more tense. The finish was a steep 20% slope, where Ulissi and I fought well and ended up fourth and ninth. After finishing and taking the bus to the hotel, we were all thinking of the third stage, the first mountain stage scheduled for Tuesday. At that time, all I wished was a few degrees Celsius less.
Unfortunately, the third stage began with a forecast of even higher daily temperatures, which should reach 40 °C. The stage was passing rather calmly, the guys from the team did an excellent work and spent most of their day up front, dictating the pace and catching those who escaped. I felt well, but the heat took its toll and stole quite some of our strength. They brought me to the slope as one of the front riders and I am grateful for that. On the slope itself Yates attacked quite early, 6 km before the finishing line. Lutsenko and Gaudu went with him. We may have misjudged this attack with the team, as we thought that it was too early and the boys on the team would be able to help me in catching up and dictating a strong pace for another kilometer. But the distance grew, and Yates really pressed forward, so I had no choice – I had to try to move to them. When I came closer, Adam attacked for a second time and broke away from Lutsenko and Gaudu. So, I continued alone, got rid of Gaudu and Lutsenko, but Yates was really exceptional, and I couldn’t catch him any longer. I was still very happy with my second place and with my achievement at 40 °C. All on the team, including the sponsors and “bosses”, were happy with this success.
On Wednesday there was another flat stage which passed quite calmly, at a little lower day temperature. In this stage our sprinter Gaviria came in second and we were all very happy and satisfied, and I was already thinking about the fifth – mountainous – stage finishing on the same slope as the day before.
On the day of the fifth – crucial stage, the forecast promised a little lower temperatures, and it was right. The guys on the team again did a great job, the breakaway had an advantage of 2,5 minutes on the bottom of the slope, but that wasn’t critical. We were at the front when we came to the slope. Ulissi and Formolo helped me dictate a sharp pace, and 4,5 km before the finish it was time for the first attack. Only Yates followed me, and Lutsenko and Gaudu joined later. So, I tried five times, but Yates was strong, and I couldn’t get rid of him. For this reason, I decided to try the finishing sprint in the last kilometres and try to win this stage. This meant that our pace got slower and three more riders joined us in the last kilometre – Lutsenko, Gaudu and Zakarin. I was the first to start the sprint because I knew there was a sharp left curve 50 m before the finish, and I needed to be on the inner side. Unfortunately, Lutsenko was strong too and took that curve in a much better position than me. But I didn’t give up, I pushed myself as much as possible and even more, and crossed the finishing line half a wheel before him. A beautiful, hard and exceptional victory at the home race and the only true ascent to Jebel Hafeet. Incredible joy and a perfect day. One could see that the victory meant a lot to everyone; the guys on the team, other members of the team, the management, the bosses, the sponsors, the organisers … A truly exceptional day also with Slovenian flags on the side of the road and in the finish.
After the presentation of awards, we were transferred to the hotel in Abu Dhabi, and there, in the night things started to happen. They found two members of the caravan who fell ill and tested positive for coronavirus. This meant that the last two stages were cancelled in the morning. We remained locked at the hotel and were not allowed to leave our rooms until things would calm down and until all at the hotel would be tested for the virus. We had no real information and received notifications only scarcely. On Friday we remained at our rooms instead of riding at the sixth level stage, and samples were taken during the day. On Saturday we got the results late in the afternoon, and I and my roommate both tested negative. I was optimistic as I hoped they will let us out of the hotel, and I will go home. Unfortunately, the testing showed some newly infected people and we had to remain in our rooms as they announced a second test. I was negative after the second test too, but they accepted the recommendation of the ministry of health – a 14-day quarantine. And that’s it!
Today is the eleventh day I am “locked” in a hotel room. We are at the first floor of the »Yas marina« hotel and fortunately this is a hotel of a higher category, so the rooms are a bit more spacious. The room has a quite large balcony too, so this makes the life a little easier at least from this aspect. The window provides a nice view of the marina where one can admire the yachts, some of them are a feast for the eyes. Just under the balcony is the »Yas marina circuit« Formula 1 track where one can watch races of different racing machines most of the day. Life just needs to be adapted to the current situation, and the sooner one accepts it, the easier one functions and lives in this confined space. The hotel is looking after us well, the food is excellent, they only bring it in plastic, ring and leave it in front of the door; we return the empty packaging to the cart or tray in the corridor and they pick it up. We got training machines at our room, so we try to train at least a little. Of course, there is a TV, internet, NetFlix and Playstation, so we can at least do something and pass the time. I talk a lot with my girlfriend Urška and my family and count the days until my departure. I only hope that things will go as planned and I will be able to go home at the end of next week.
It is hard to say what will happen to the racing – as you can see, matters change from one day to another or from one hour to the other – at the moment to the worse, as races are cancelled, and teams like ours are also giving up competitions for some time. I just hope things will stabilise as soon as possible and slowly return to normal.
Ah, and about the race … It concluded with the fifth stage and my victory! Overall, I was second, which is excellent, I am more than happy.
Here are some pictures to show how I live and function at the moment.