Paolo Bettini, this year’s guest of honour at the Santos Tour Down Under hinted that his neighbour Diego Ulissi, who lives just up the road from his house in Cecina, Tuscany, was mimicking Damiano Cunego by not choosing between one-day races and Grand Tours, and therefore not performing fully in any of the two specialties. The former world and Olympic champion’s words do not appear to have gone unheeded.
“The Ardennes classics are my biggest goal this year, I have matured enough to target them,” Ulissi told Cyclingnews in Adelaide after finishing second to Jay McCarthy in Stirling where he emerged as a winner two years ago. “Now I’ve realized that I can be more competitive in one-day races and not over three weeks, so at a Grand Tour, I’ll only focus on a stage win here and there.”
Now 26, the Italian is following the path of his mentor Michele Bartoli, who coaches him on a daily basis. “He gives me a lot,” Ulissi said. “Not everyone is lucky enough to be advised by such a great champion. I can’t thank him enough for his advice. He even tries to pass his character onto me, his tenacity too.”
Lampre-Merida is one of the very few teams that don’t organize a pre-season training camp, making the riders responsible for showing up in good form at races, but Ulissi and five teammates spent two weeks in the Canary Islands to prepare for the Santos Tour Down Under. “I asked to come back to this race because I like it so much,” said the Tuscan, who missed out last year due to his nine-month ban for testing positive for asthma medication salbutamol at the 2014 Giro d’Italia.
“This is the ideal race for getting the rhythm since the stages aren’t too long,” he said. “I’ve come second today but I have nothing to complain about. I was in a perfect position. I was looking for McCarthy’s slipstream but he was strong enough to stay ahead. He deserves his victory. It was a more explosive sprint today than two years ago but I could see that my condition is good.
“I’ve had a serene winter close to my family after the difficult period I’ve endured. Every experience enables to improve as a person. My troubles belong to the past now.”
Third overall at the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under, Ulissi is now ranked second, sandwiched between McCarthy and Simon Gerrans. “I’ll try to win the race but I have to be realistic. The Australians are here in a much more advanced condition than I am,” he admitted.