Ciao and welcome to my first blog for Cyclingnews.
I'm writing this from the airport, with my flight to the Dubai Tour taking off in the next couple of hours. Honestly, I can't wait to get the season up and running with my Quick-Step Floors team. It's been a long winter and the waiting period is finally over. Personally, the winter went well for me, even with the bad weather that we had in Europe. I was training almost every day and importantly I didn't pick up any illness. I can't complain and my condition is pretty decent. We'll just have to wait and see how things go at my first race.
Back in December, the team had its winter training camp. They're always similar affairs – Eat, train, sleep, repeat but it does give you the chance to integrate with the new riders. That's important because it helps you relax and build some atmosphere. We have a few new faces around the team this year. Three neo-pros have come on board, we have Jack Bauer, who I knew a bit but not personally and then of course Philippe Gilbert, who I've known for a while. It's actually been a few weeks now and already they don't feel like new guys anymore.
In terms of my race programme, it's almost the same as last year when it comes to the first few months. There are a couple of small tweaks, so there's no altitude camp after Dubai, but with all the new WorldTour races there's just not time. We have 29 riders, two less than last year, and with the added races it means we couldn't fit everything into the calendar. I know that Qatar is cancelled but when we sat down and made the plans for the start of the season, that was still going ahead. We've decided to keep to the schedule and I've got a traditional programme with the Classics.
A lot of people have been talking over the winter about the expansion of the WorldTour but for me, there's not a problem. There are new races added but it doesn't mean that the team has to go. That does create a bit of limbo but if you look at races like Strade Bianche - that was already a big goal for our season. We have to see how the WorldTour calendar develops but at the moment you don't have to go to all the races, as it's just the first year with the changes. It's a little complicated but for QuickStep Floors I don't think it changes too much. We still want to be competitive at every race and show the jersey.
Here's a bit of an exclusive for you… At the moment the plan for later in the year is that I skip the Giro d'Italia. It's a special race for me, and of course I won a stage there last year, but for now I'm on the long-list for the Tour de France team. That's a long way off though so for now the focus is on the first part of the year and the Classics.
We have a really strong team for the spring but honestly, I think I have a good chance of having my own opportunities. In the Classics, if you in the finales, and you have the form then naturally you have an opportunity. You need to pick up the chance if it comes your way, and you need to have the legs but it's really up to you. That the mentality that we've had on this team since I've been here. If I look at the races then maybe Milan-San Remo stands out as being the biggest objective. That's the race that really suits my characteristics as a rider and in 2016 I was really unlucky to be held up by the crash in the finale but I was also held up again by another crash before the Poggio. That's racing though and the best rider always wins. I think the last Italian rider to win San Remo was Pozzato. That's 11 years, and it's a long time but why can't I dream? Dreaming is for free, as they say.
Before we even reach Milan-San Remo we have the small matter of the Dubai Tour. It's a race I wanted to start my season with and it's a good chance to link up with Marcel Kittel and work together in the leadout train. The roads there are nice and wide and there's not that much stress with the corners. It feels like we're restarting, even if you have the same guys. Marcel has me and Fabio Sabatini there but you also look at some of the other teams and their trains. Maybe they've brought in new riders and sometimes that works for them, sometimes it doesn't, so as well as being an important race in itself, Dubai gives riders like me a chance to see the equilibrium and also make any small adjustments that we need for later in the year.