On the start line of the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Diego Ulissi revealed he wouldn’t battle for time bonus to challenge Simon Gerrans’ lead, even though he was only five seconds down on GC.
“I’ll ride in a quiet way”, he told Cyclingnews. “I’m happy where I stand. I’m racing to keep my third place overall.”
So it was mission accomplished at the finish with the Italian holding his place.
“It’s been a difficult stage for me with the heat, the tension of riding for GC, and some dangerous riders in the bunch… It’s normal because we were just a few seconds apart but I managed to remain close to the front with my team. Third in the Santos Tour Down Under is a better result than I expected before coming here. I’m delighted.”
Questioned before the race as to whether he was ready to resume racing in 2014 in the same way he concluded his 2013 season [a winner of Milan-Turin, Coppa Sabatini and Giro dell’Emilia in October], he looked very skeptical about it.
“I didn’t expect to race at the front so early this year”, Ulissi said. “But the Santos Tour Down Under is an important race as it allocates a lot of WorldTour points, which is good for me and for my team. This is a very important season for me. My physique is getting better, so it’s a confidence booster to start with a third place overall and moreover the great victory I claimed on stage 2 in a beautiful way.”
“I want to be on top form at Tirreno-Adriatico and keep the momentum for Milan-San Remo,” the 24-year-old continued. “My second goal will be the Ardennes classics. There, I’ll have to compete against the world’s best riders. That’s why it’s important to be already close to the level of the likes of Gerrans and [Cadel] Evans. I’m yet to understand what my real value is. Finishing on the podium here in Australia increases my belief in my capacities to fight at the highest level.”
Unlike last year when his only Grand Tour was the Vuelta a Espana in preparation for the world championship, Ulissi will return to the Giro d’Italia where he won stage 17 on his debut. “I’ll target the medium-mountain stages”, he said. “Maybe in the future I’ll ride the Giro for GC but I have to improve step by step and win one-week long races before I focus on three weeks.”
His early season program will take him to the Mallorca Challenge, the Laigueglia Trophy, the GP Camaiore and the Strade Bianche in his lead up to Tirreno-Adriatico.