We are already in the middle of summer and the temperatures rarely fall under 30°C, but I feel like I was in the middle of winter only a few days ago, packing my suitcases for my first GREAT performance among the elite – the Tour Down Under. I can’t believe how time runs, or better – flies, and what accumulated in my head between the winter and now, when I roam around in my thoughts and ask myself where the path of my life is taking me. It would be a pity not to write it down and share it with you, as in short – the first part of the season 2019 was really a dream!
Soon after New Year I travelled to Australia for my first race among the elite. 15th January 2019 is a day I will never forget. For the first time in my life I stood at the start together with the best cyclists of the world in another part of the globe, in the middle of our winter, proudly wearing the jersey of my new cycling team, the UAE Team Emirates. I had a million questions in my head, but all were related to the same topic: how will I do among the elite at my first World Tour race? The team let me do whatever I thought was right, and I came in 13th in the general placement. The ice was broken and the result exceeded expectations, and best of all, at this race I consoled my mind as I saw that I could compete even with the best cyclists in the world – whom I only saw on TV before that!
Next was the one-day race in Australia, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (1.UWT), where I tried to help after the problems of my teammate Jasper Philipsen, but we couldn’t catch up with the others. I will hold the races in the land down under in my best memory as this was my first time among the elite and you know – “you never forget your first time”.
Portugal as the next station and the race across Algarve (HC) wasn’t really expected. Due to the illness of one of my teammates I had the chance to compete and help the captain Fabio Aru. Things turned out differently: in the second stage there was a final ascent where Aru wasn’t able to follow the main competitors; my legs were turning well though, so I took over as the team’s captain. Obviously, I was well-prepared as I managed to beat Wouter Poels and Enric Mas and won that stage. Incredible, I could say like a dream, but there was not much time to be happy, as I took over the yellow jersey and so our team got new assignments, for which we were prepared well. In the third stage I excellently managed a time trial of approximately 20 km and defended the jersey. In the fourth stage our team successfully controlled the course of the race and defended the jersey again. In the last, fifth stage, we knew that the decisive part was a slope that was 3 km long and very steep in the beginning, where I will be the main protagonist. And I did it! I defended the jersey and WON my second week-long race in this elite company! Incredible, like a dream, as not even two months passed among the elite on the day I won. I shared my happiness with my teammates and other people who look after us in the background. I was also happy to see the warm reception my fans prepared at home in Komenda.
There was no time to rest as some one-day classics were just around the corner. The first and for me the nicest was the Strade Bianche: macadam roads in Tuscany with many short ascents make this race especially charming. I gave my wheel to my teammate Rui Costa and then spent all my energy to catch up with the group. Nevertheless, this was a great experience and at least for me one of the most beautiful one-day classic races – I hope I will have the chance to participate again. Two days before the race cross the Basque Region I participated in the one-day Miguel Indurain race – a very hard and dynamic race where I tried some attacks in the last five kilometres. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to separate from the group, but I still ended up 6th which was very good after such a hard and selective race. Next was the race across the Basque Region – at least for me this was my best week. I would like to bring the same shape I demonstrated at this race over to some other race in this year. Despite the strong competition, a fall and the fact that unlike the others I had to race the time trial in rain, I came up extraordinary 6th in the general placement. This excellent result was a good introduction for the Ardennes classic races. I didn’t manage the first of them, the Amstel Gold Race, because of digestion problems. At the Fleche Wallone I had a breakdown at an unpleasant time, but I still managed to gather a lot of experience that will help me get good results here in the future. Despite the bad luck at these two I enjoyed the races with the loud cheering from the audience. Another classic race followed, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which I managed to finish despite the hard circumstances, I even had the chance to join the TOP 10 and finally ended up very satisfied among the best twenty.
Next was the flight to the California Race which was defined as my main goal right at the beginning of the season. I was wearing the captain’s band and with the help of the team managed to win the sixth hardest stage to Mt. Baldy. With this I also took over the leader’s jersey and with the help of the team we managed to bring it to the finish line of the last stage. This was also my first World Tour and my biggest victory which makes me very proud. I am also happy that with my new team and coaches I managed to arrive at the race in the proper shape, although we have been working together only for a few months. Racing in America is a bit different than racing in Europe. All was more relaxed, the roads were wide, the weather nice, fewer spectators but the cheering was different; I could say »American style«.
After that we had some trainings on Slovenian roads and then the national time trial championship. My strong competitors in this discipline, Jan Tratnik and Matej Mohorič (both Bahrain Merida) and the completely flat route which doesn’t suit me were a special challenge. I managed my strength in the best possible way and raced as well as I could, surprised even myself and won convincingly, which brought me the jersey of the national champion in the Elite category. The jersey of the Slovenian national champion means a lot to me and I will be happy to wear it at the next time trials.
The next race was the Gran Premio Città di Lugano where our team was very strong. We were very good, Ulissi won, Riabushenko came in second and I added to the success of the team as excellent 7th. I am very happy with this result too, as I was side by side with the best all the way to the finish.
The next race was the race across Slovenia which I attended with the wish to win; I wrote about it in my first blog.
The national championship last weekend in Radovljica had a very selective route where the participants from the Bahrain Meride team used their advantage. Unfortunately, Roglič and I remained alone in the second of seven rounds, together with two members of Bahrain Merida (Pibernik, Mohorič), who had their teammate in front of them and no need to catch up with the flight. But I still won the NC jersey for ages up to 23; maybe more next year.
And finally: THANK YOU all who follow me and cheer for me. I wish you all nice a holiday. Read you, see you, and good luck on the road!