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Formolo: I'll do less with Pogacar and more for myself in 2022

VARESE ITALY OCTOBER 05 Davide Formolo of Italy and UAE Team Emirates competes in the breakaway during the 100th Tre Valli Varesine a 1967km race from Busto Arsizio to Varese 377m AlfredoBindaVa on October 05 2021 in Varese Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Formolo riding for his own chances at Tre Valli Varesine this year (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Davide Formolo was caught between a rock and a hard place in the final week of this year's Giro d’Italia. A crash on the gravel stage to Montalcino had seemingly ruined his prospects of a top-10 finish, but he remained too much of a threat on general classification to be allowed infiltrate early breaks and hunt stages.

In the longer term, meanwhile, he knew that he would have to report for duty at the Tour de France just weeks after the Giro reached Milan. Come the dying days of the Giro, he already had one eye on the role he would have to perform on behalf of UAE Team Emirates leader Tadej Pogačar in France.

Formolo had started the Giro with the vague notion that the race might help him figure out his future as a stage race rider, but, in the circumstances, his eventual 15th place finish was inconclusive. He duly proceeded to ride as a deluxe gregario as Pogačar sealed a second successive Tour, but the Italian is not slated for double duty in 2022. Instead, the first half of his season will be focused squarely on the Giro.

"Normally, I shouldn’t do the Tour next year, I’ll be concentrating on the Giro," Formolo told Cyclingnews. "The plan is to only do the Giro so I’ll be more focused. After the crash this year, I was already thinking about the Tour by the last week. Next year, I wanted to be 100 per cent focused on the Giro."

Formolo’s sparkling amateur career saw him lauded as a future Giro winner when he turned professional in 2014 and those expectations hardly diminished when he soloed to victory in La Spezia on his debut the following year. 

His gifts as a climber carried him to 10th overall in both 2017 and 2018 – he was also 9th at the 2016 Vuelta a España – but he acknowledges that the jury is still out as to whether those performances represented a glass ceiling over three weeks or hinted at the potential to achieve more.

Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin)

Formolo wins his Giro stage at La Spezia (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

At 29 years of age, Formolo may as well try to find out. He will set out from Hungary next May with an eye to the general classification, as, it seems, will new arrival João Almeida, but mindful that he might toggle towards hunting stage victories if Plan A doesn’t run smoothly. 

In any case, he will be free to race the Giro without thinking of sparing himself for July. He will have no thoughts beyond the final time trial in his native Verona, which climbs the Torricelle and then descends into town past the church in which he was married.

"For the big Classics, I certainly feel ready enough to say I’m capable of winning them. For the Grand Tours, some more water probably needs to pass under the bridge," Formolo said. 

"I need a bit of time and maybe the moment will never come. Right now, I don’t feel ready to say that I can go to a Grand Tour to win it, but I can go there trying to be in the top-10 or maybe the top-7 or so if everything goes well. But there are a lot of unpredictable things that can happen."

Pogačar

Yet if personal ambition will be the centrepiece of Formolo’s 2022 campaign, the year just past was garlanded by his work on behalf of regular training partner Pogačar, who lives on the floor beneath him in their apartment block in Monaco. 

In 2020, Formolo missed the remarkable denouement to the Tour after breaking his clavicle in a crash on stage 11. Shepherding the maillot jaune onto the Champs-Élysées this time around was among the highlights of Formolo’s cycling life.

"I’ll always remember that last right turn onto the Champs-Élysées. We couldn’t do any more at that point, and nothing more could happen," Formolo said. "There was a sense of relief and it was beautiful."

In Formolo’s absence, Pogačar had been left isolated in the mountains in 2020, and his supporting cast was widely viewed as the Achilles heel to his title defence last summer. Even if Formolo could understand some of the external doubts, they provided ample motivation.

"We had a lot of young riders, but we knew our own level. It was a pity the press didn’t believe in us, but that’s just part of the job too," he said. "We were confident because we knew our strength. We knew that [Rafal] Majka could have been in top five if he’d ridden his own race, and everybody had a job, so we weren’t afraid of anybody."

Tour de France 2021 - 108th Edition - 17th stage Muret - Col du Portet 178,4 km - 14/07/2021 - Davide Formolo (ITA - UAE Team Emirates) - Tadej Pogacar (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Dario Belingheri/BettiniPhoto©2021

Formolo setting the pace for Pogacar at the Tour de France this year (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Even though the onus was on Formolo to lead the line for UAE Team Emirates at the Giro, the responsibility of riding on Pogačar’s behalf at the Tour weighed more heavily.

"Honestly – and paradoxically – for me, it’s more stressful when I ride for somebody else," Formolo laughed. "Pogačar was so strong that he could only have lost the Tour because of our errors. And if he’d lost the Tour because of a mistake of mine, it would have been the biggest disappointment of my career."

Not that Pogačar’s demeanour did anything to ratchet up the tension aboard to UAE Team Emirates bus. Although the Slovenian sits on a bike with the same cannibalistic instincts as Merckx, his gentle form of leadership off it seems to have rather more in common with Indurain. 

Pogačar’s ambition and appetite carried him to victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia as well as at the Tour, but there is no resentment among his teammates that his gifts can limit their opportunities to shine.

"We know that if he wants to do something, he has the numbers to do it, so it’s only right that he has priority," Formolo said. "And above all, he’s a good man, he’s a good person. In the end, we’re on the bike five or six hours a day, but there’s another 18 or 19 hours off the bike, and the way Tadej carries himself in those other hours is where he gains everybody’s respect."

Programme

Formolo was unable to reveal his entire racing programme for 2022 just yet – UAE Team Emirates are keen to maintain some suspense for their pre-season training camp in January – but it is clear that he will not race alongside Pogačar quite as often as he did this year. 

The neighbours will also no longer share a coach in 2022. While Pogačar will remain under the supervision of Iñigo San Millán, Formolo will now be guided by Jeroen Swart.

"I’ll play my own cards more next year, so we wanted to try this. I’ll do a bit less with Tadej and more for myself, so we’ll have different preparation," said Formolo, who has switched coaches often during his career, from Sebastian Weber and Leonardo Piepoli during his time at Cannondale, to Patxi Vila in his spell at Bora-Hansgrohe.

In that time, the demands of professional cycling have seemed only to grow more intense. Formolo maintains that the tendency towards shortened stages at Grand Tours has played a part – "when they were longer, the pace was a bit steadier," he noted – while the concept of preparation races was already fading from view even when he entered the professional peloton in 2013.

"I think it was kind of Contador who changed cycling. He was probably the first rider who went out to get a result in every race he did," Formolo said. "Maybe before, the Grand Tours and the Classics were the only races where the big champions were at 100 per cent, so everything else was preparation for those events.

"Now after Contador, all the big champions go out to win in every race, and that has raised the level of stress throughout the whole year. Riders have to be competitive all year round, there’s no second or third-level race anymore. 10 years ago, something like Challenge Mallorca at the start of the season was a preparation race. Not anymore."

Davide Formolo on the podium

Formolo was the Italian champion in 2019 (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Such relentless intensity seems destined to shorten careers. Formolo’s near-contemporary Fabio Aru, for instance, stepped away from professional cycling this Autumn at just 31 years of age and, privately, some of the young luminaries of the current peloton have expressed severe doubts about matching the longevity of men like Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde.

"Obviously it’s very demanding and very stressful," Formolo said. "Maybe before, the stress only built up in the couple of months leading up to your goal, whereas now you have to go strong all year long. Nowadays you really have to love what you do. Not that the riders who stop early don’t love it enough, but you really have to have it inside of you, it has to become a way of life."

And yet, the burden can still be worn lightly. In late October, just after the serious business of the season had been put to bed, Formolo lined up on the track in Bassano del Grappa for a novel challenge in the company of Maria Vittoria Sperotto of AR Monex. Their task was to cover the smallest possible distance in sixty minutes to establish a new record Reverse Hour Record as part of the Festival del Ciclista Lento – the Festival of the Slow Cyclist – and they duly succeeded, creaking their way to 918 metres.

"It’s an event organised by Guido Foddis, a journalist who is a friend and in the past big champions like Gilberto Simoni have done it," Formolo said. "He’s been asking me to do it for a few years, and the track in Bassano isn’t far from my homeplace in Verona. I even went there by bike, to tire myself out a bit more and make sure I’d go a bit slower."

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