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Formolo: It’s better to have Hirschi in the team than racing against us

SAINT MARTIN DE BELLEVILLE FRANCE AUGUST 14 Davide Formolo of Italy and Team UAE Team Emirates Breakaway during the 72nd Criterium du Dauphine 2020 Stage 3 a 157km stage from Corenc to Saint Martin de Belleville 1419m dauphine Dauphin on August 14 2020 in Saint Martin de Belleville France Photo by Justin SetterfieldGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The year is new, but the question is old. Davide Formolo has been facing it ever since he turned professional with Cannondale in 2014 and never really arrived at an answer. In truth, he hasn’t felt the need.

Should he focus his attention on the Grand Tours or the Ardennes Classics? 

“That’s the question!” Formolo laughed during the UAE Team Emirates media day, before reaffirming his belief that the one-day races and three-week events were not mutually exclusive endeavours. 

“Last year, when Roglic won Liège, I was joking: ‘So is Roglic a rider for the Grand Tours or the Classics?’”

This season, Formolo will thus target the Ardennes Classics in April before riding the Giro d’Italia alongside Brandon McNulty in search of a high overall finish the following month. After a short break, he will then line out in a supporting role for defending champion Tadej Pogacar at the Tour de France.

“There are some races that are so long and hard that the endurance riders come out,” Formolo explained. 

“I know I’m already at the really top level for the one-day races. In stage races I still have to improve. We’re still working on that. For that this reason, it’s also a big challenge for me at the Giro d’Italia."

Formolo has three top 10 finishes in Grand Tours to his name – ninth at the 2016 Vuelta a España, and tenth in the next two editions of the Giro – but it is some time since he truly tested his capabilities across three weeks. The crash that forced him out of last year’s Tour also left him short of form ahead of the Vuelta, which he left on the final weekend to attend the birth of his daughter.

“I’m 28 years old now,” said Formolo. “After the last two years I had some injuries so I couldn’t show my best. The last Grand Tour that I could finish without problems was the Giro d’Italia in 2018 and now we’re in 2021, so whether I’m good enough or not, I don’t want to say. I just want to race my bike.” 

The last time Formolo completed a Grand Tour was in 2019, when he placed 15th at the Giro having spent much of the race trying to force an opening for a stage victory. He suggested that his approach in 2020 might be a little more conservative, though the temptation to replicate his triumph at La Spezia on his debut in 2015 will never be far away. 

“We’ll see. I’ve been in the top 10 on GC three times already,” he said. “Three years ago, when I was fighting with the [GC] guys instead of going in the breakaway, I showed that I wasn’t missing too much from the best guys. In the last three years, I’ve been improving. The team believe in me a lot, and I believe also – so we just keep calm and race a bike.”

Hirschi as a teammate

After starting his year at the UAE Tour, Formolo’s early emphasis will be on one-day racing, beginning with Strade Bianche, where he made his debut with a fine second place last August before confirming that form with a stage win at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

“I want to see the difference between Strade in the summer and the winter,” he said, adding that he will also return to Milan-San Remo, having enjoyed his first appearance in last year’s novel, summer edition. 

After a spell at altitude at Mount Teide, he will line out at Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he took second behind Jakob Fulgsang in 2019.

Formolo's diet of one-day races corresponds closely with that of new signing Marc Hirschi, a late and surprising arrival from Team DSM in early January. 

The Swiss youngster won Flèche-Wallone and placed second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège during a remarkable purple patch last Autumn, but Formolo insisted Hirschi would help his chances rather than hinder them. At La Doyenne, meanwhile, Formolo and Hirschi will form a redoubtable quartet alongside Pogacar and Rui Costa.

“It’s better to have him in the team than racing against us,” Formolo said of Hirschi. “It was quite an impressive move from the team.

"We will be such a strong team at Liège and on that parcours, that will be really good. When you have the strongest team in the race, it’s also easier for everyone to attack.”

UAE Team Emirates were far from the strongest team at last year’s Tour, of course, though that proved no hindrance to the eventual winner Pogacar. 

The Slovenian would surely have been less isolated in the high mountains, mind, had Formolo not been forced out by a broken collarbone on stage 11. The Italian will hope to play an important role on behalf of his Monaco neighbour this July.

“On this team, there’s something more than I ever found on other teams, because we are three teammates living in the same building in Monaco,” said Formolo. 

“Tadej is on the first floor, I’m second floor and Valerio Conti on the fourth. That was really good just after the lockdown last year, because we could train together and also analyse our data.”

Formolo stated his intention to ride in Pogacar’s service at the Tour all the way to Paris, despite his desire to race in the road race at the Tokyo Olympics, which is scheduled to take place just five days later. With the quarantine regulations still to be defined, Formolo felt it was premature to start making plans for Japan, where Vincenzo Nibali is expected to lead the Italian challenge.

“I don’t know how the rules will be for travel around the world at that moment – no one does – but it’s the same for everybody. We’ll just have to adapt because COVID is something above the cycling world,” said Formolo, who will hope to make up for the disappointing of being ruled out of last year’s Imola Worlds through injury.

“The Olympics is a crazy race and with this parcours, it’s even more crazy because it’s so hard. It will be important to have a strong team because in the Olympics, there is no one team who can control the race. As we know, I am good when there is a big chaos in the race, when you need more legs than tactics.”