Oliver Naesen has outlined his main goals for the upcoming resumption of the season, with his sights firmly on the Tour de France and 'spring' Classics. The Belgian is currently at AG2R La Mondiale training camp in the French Alps and said that he's "very hungry" to get back to racing.
Speaking to Cyclingnews from the team's base in Vaujany, Naesen confirmed that he'll be kicking things off in Italy with the Strade Bianche, Milano-Torino and Milan-San Remo triumvirate, but he said that his racing in August will be geared towards later goals.
"I'm very hungry now because it's been so long since we've raced," Naesen said. "Training has been nice and good but we really want to race and that's what it's all about.
"Honestly, for me the Tour de France and Classics block is the most important. Strade Bianche is the first race. I've never done it before and it's perhaps a bit too hard for me on paper.
"San Remo is also very important but it's such a specific race with only one strategic point, so it's also difficult to aim all your arrows at that one point during 300km."
Naesen, who recently extended his contract with AG2R to 2023, is in France training with the team's Classics squad, having been at camp since June 22, joined earlier by the rest of the 12-man shortlist for the Tour de France.
The race, which will run from August 29 to September 20, will see the team primarily target stage victories, while the GC will also be on the minds of Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour.
"From what I understood from our team meetings is that our main goals will be to win stages," said Naesen. "GC is also important because it's the DNA of the team from the last years. I feel we'll go more towards stages this year.
"I'm always looking forward to the Tour de France. It's the biggest race of the year. It'll be my fifth one. It's something – when people who are not in cycling ask me what I do, the first question is 'so you do the Tour de France?' and if you say no you're not a cyclist, so it's super important."
Like almost every pro cyclist – bar those who have taken part in practice races in the past week – Naesen hasn't turned a wheel in anger since the early months of the season. His last race was the abridged Paris-Nice. Naesen confessed that going so long without racing made him feel like he was barely a professional anymore.
"I spent a lot of time in Belgium before and trained a lot on Belgian roads," he said. "I'm really happy to be here with the team and rediscover some of the pro cyclist life because I didn't feel like a pro cyclist at all anymore at home."
Naesen also outlined the steps the team have taken to keep the training camp safe and COVID-19 free. A number of teams have already started training together, some separated into 'bubbles', with all of them so far confirming a number of safety measures to be taken as their riders and staff regroup for the first time in months.
"It's very different," Naesen said of the camp. "There's a lot of work being put in by our assistants and there are a lot of measures being taken by our medical staff. We sleep in separate rooms, our massage tables get disinfected, our bikes are washed and disinfected.
"Obviously, there's masks and hand gels. If someone wants to take a selfie with us, we can say 'yes but you cannot stand next to me'. It's a bit of an awkward position but it's not nearly as bad as it is for other people in society so we can't complain."
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