The 2023 season is already in full swing. I had a busy schedule for the first three months, but it could have been worse. A slightly different program awaits me than what I was used to until now. In the team, we really dedicate ourselves to coming to the races with adequate preparation. Last season I was used to doing the last training camp in January and then racing, racing, racing. This time everything is different. In February I spent more than 3 weeks under a volcano, in Tenerife (El Teide). I know how boring it can be up there because there is nothing to do. We trained a lot, so my time went by very quickly. We spent one-third of the day on the bike and I was already exhausted from the last week. We are talking about the amount of training, which in comparison to the Grand Tour is very similar 🙂 But with great company, despite the bad weather in the first 10 days, we successfully completed the trainings for the first races and the biggest goal of this season, the Giro d’Italia.
After the training camp, I flew directly to Belgium for the Opening Weekend. The weekend was an indication that we had done exceptional winter preparation. Two wins, second and third place. When you see how we all raced well, helped each other, and encouraged each other, you get new motivation and want more. Although it was difficult since I had already been away from home for more than a month, all the effort is paying off. Then some riders fell ill, and the race program had to be adjusted. So, I jumped into the Paris-Nice race.
Probably one of the most stressful one-week races, but I couldn’t wait to go to the start of such a prestigious race with such a strong team. After the first two races in Belgium, I was extremely tired and maybe I didn’t quite come to my senses. The race started near Paris, with not-so-pleasant temperatures and a nervous start. Thank God we all finished the first stage safe and sound. We rode in the front, so we were 100% focused on the team time trial. I love this discipline, but when I looked at our team, I knew it was going to hurt like never before. Current world champion, 2x former world champion, Tour winner… The speed was incredibly high, and we all suffered from start to finish for the win. We succeeded and we were in front of an excellent starting point for the first mountain stage. Jonas tried, but this time Pogačar was stronger. Two flat stages followed, where we aimed high with Olav. After 4th and 2nd place, he also proved that he belongs among the best sprinters and won the 5th stage. Joy again. The next day Mother Nature won. Due to strong winds and storms, the organizers canceled the 6th stage. I think it was the right decision because I know what it’s like when the wind blows over 100 km/h (gusts were up to 130 km/h). The last two stages decided the overall winner of the race. Saturday’s stage, with an uphill finish, is one to forget. I still felt good at the start, but already after the first climb, I felt that something was happening, that something not ordinary is brewing in my body. Breakaway at the front, me in the group, but because of the heat (yes, the Garmin also showed 32°C, almost a 30°C change compared to the first day), I boiled. Typical of the first warm day. I have had problems with this in previous years. I felt extremely bad. The team and I decided that it is better if I go slowly to the finish line in the grupetto. Of course, I wanted to finish the stage, because my girlfriend Urša and my brother Sašo were waiting for me at the finish line. I haven’t seen Urša for more than 1 month and it was a great motivation to finish the stage, although during the stage I thought about quitting because I felt so bad. However, it was worth the effort. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time, but it’s a great feeling when you see your loved ones after 1 month of hard work. After the stage, all possible thoughts went through my head… but mainly what will happen the next day, because we had another difficult stage. I also know that after a bad day, sooner or later you’ll be back. At least that’s what I believed. And yes, the last stage, which is considered the most difficult one, because it’s rock’n’roll all day. Short stage, last chance for GC, stage chance, breakaway… I went for the breakaway, which meant I recharged well. The stage was, so to speak, one long time trial. All out to the finish line. Or, for me, to the start of the Col d’Eze. The peloton of climbers caught us on the penultimate climb and from there I helped Jonas as much as I could. Jonas finished the stage in second place and third in the GC. Of course, for a Tour winner, he expected more, which is logical, but I think it was still a good start for the team and Jonas. TDF is still far away, and I believe that the story will be different there. Tadej, however, proved once again that he was stronger than the others in this race.
After the stage, I immediately switched my focus to the next race, Milano-Sanremo. After two days of rest, I completed a successful training on the third day and got the feeling that I am slightly better prepared than the week before. I went into the race extremely motivated, especially since we had Wout on the team. Already the winner of the longest race and we aimed to win this year as well. Unfortunately, the race did not go as we expected, but Wout made the most of the day. Plans began to collapse with my fall. The fall happened just before the first key slope – Cipressa. Due to a sign on the road indicating roadworks, the rider of the other team pulled out at the last minute, understandably, he doesn’t want to hit the sign at 50km/h and it was probably a natural instinct to turn into me. Unfortunately, it knocked me to the ground like a button from trousers, as they would say in my hometown. Changing the bike and chasing the peloton. I started the slope at the back. And I know how high the speed is in this part of the race, so it was almost impossible to come back. I was already within 10-15 seconds at the top of Cipressa, but the peloton was too fast. A personal disappointment, but it could be worse. Everything is ok, with a few scratches on the body, and a couple of days of bad sleep. Since the Giro is the main goal of the season, it was necessary to take some rest, since I have been on the drive since January. If I want to be mentally and physically ready, the week after the MSR was a great time to do 8 days without a specific program and ride the bike at will. I rode a bit, enjoyed it and now I’m ready to restart again. Again, I have 3 weeks of training on the Teide scheduled, then straight to Liege-Baston-Liege and then the Giro. I can’t wait, Primož is already in great shape, and I’m really excited to help him to the best of my ability.
Photo: Getty Images, Cor Vos Pro, POO, Personal Archive