The Italian climber – who's in Oz for already a week now – shared his impressions and talked of his future ambitions.
While I'm in Australia, I thought I'd write a bit about my experience of being here for the Tour Down Under, the team's first race of the season.
Aside from the race itself, travelling to Australia has its own challenges. With such a long flight, jetlag is inevitably going to be a problem. Knowing this, when I flew over here last week, I thought I'd try to stay awake for the whole flight, and then see if I can catch some sleep when I arrived at the hotel in Adelaide. It actually seems to have done the trick, as I adjusted fairly quickly to the time difference, and was ready to race in the People's Choice Classic within only a few days of arriving here.
Something I had really been looking forward to is seeing the spectacular and diverse landscape of the Australian countryside, but I have to say that when you're racing, you don't get to see too much of that. Fortunately, on our training and recon rides last week, we were able to get a glimpse of the beautiful scenery, and even spot some native wildlife in the Adelaide Hills.
What wasn't so enjoyable about the training, though, was the sudden change from the cold European winter to the hot summer temperatures here. It's a bit of a challenge for the body to adjust. Where I live in Northern Italy, it can be quite cold during the winter, so compared to the hot temperatures we had this week, this is quite a change. But with each day, you gradually acclimatise more, so I feel I'll be ready when the temperatures soar past 40 degrees, which I've heard happens quite often down here during January.
Something else we've all had to get used to is that everyone drives on the left hand side of the road. It was quite tricky during the first few training sessions, particularly going through the many roundabouts here, so our sports director often had to remind us all via the radio to "stay left!". One good thing, however, is that in the feed zones, the soigneurs all stand on the right hand side of the road like they do back in Europe, so that makes things a little simpler.
During the race, it's also hard not to notice how fantastic the atmosphere is. I never expected to see so many people here who really love cycling. The fans lining the streets root for everyone and are always keen to get autographs before the stage. However, a lot of them are also keen cyclists themselves, and when we go out training, we often meet many of these people, who tag along with us as we do our recon rides.
Actually, when I was at an autograph signing session last week, some fans asked me about my goals for this season. At the moment, I first want to put my condition to the test here in Australia, and get in sync with my new teammates who are also here, like Jack Bauer, Eros Capecchi and Enric Mas, as well as Dries Devenyns, who was a teammate of mine a few years back. What I can say, however, is that my goal is to be selected for the Tour de France, and to win a stage there. If I can achieve that, I will have won a stage at each of the three Grand Tours, which is a feat that not too many riders can say they have accomplished.
Last year was a really good season for me, as I won a stage at both the Giro and Vuelta, which was amazing. So this year, I want to complete the hat trick. For the time being, however, I'm enjoying my time here in Australia, and when we've completed the Tour Down Under, we'll spend yet another week in Geelong ahead of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. After that, I'm looking forward to seeing what my 2017 season will bring.
Photo credit: ©BrakeThrough Media