Abu Dhabi Tour
Wow. What a week it has been!
Racing in the Abu Dhabi Tour with Drapac Cycling has simply been an unreal experience. With 10 World Tour professional teams and the rest made up of Professional Continental teams, the start list filled with some huge names and I got the chance to climb on stage 3 with the very best in the world. Peter Sagan was wearing his rainbow stripes for the first time. Fabio Aru, Tom Dumoulin and Esteban Chaves were coming off very strong Vuelta a España performances, and other big teams including Team Sky, BMC and Movistar came with some very noticeable riders.
This was ranked as a 2.1, but only because as a UCI regulation, races in their first edition cannot be ranked higher and it is expected this will have a HC if not WT ranking in the future.
That being said, I was extremely happy to come away with 13th overall on the GC, and 4th in the young riders classification. There are many highlights from the week, here’s a few of them:
Staying in a 6-star resort in the middle of the desert. It was my first time I’ve visited the middle east, and I’ve enjoyed my time here. Before the start of stage 1 we had to drive two hours into the desert to stay at this very high end resort. We were escorted around via golf buggies, and the buffet there was the very best I’ve experienced on tour thus far. The place was euphoric. I couldn’t help but smile when I entered my room, and to be honest I was a little bit sad going to sleep knowing that we would be departing and heading back to the Crowne Plaza on Yas Island for the remainder of the tour (which was also a very nice hotel). There’s not a whole lot to do at the resort other than go for a camel ride or sit by the pool, but it had a very authentic Middle-Eastern feel about it and was very relaxing!
Getting rolled by Philippe Gilbert on stage 3. I would have preferred to beat the former World Road Race champion, (and I would have also preferred to win the tour for that matter). Gilbert was dropped earlier than me on the 11km climb, losing ground early but working his way back up and getting on my wheel with 1km to go. He stuck it in the big ring and held me off to the finish. I survived long enough in the front group to experience Nibali attack the reduced group with about 5km to go. It hurt, and that attack was when I lost contact with the front of the race. My heart rate was at 204 bpm, and I couldn’t sustain the level of effort required to hold the wheel. The most exciting thing is that I truly believe I can improve on this result and become more competitive. I know things are different in a race, but looking purely at my data, my power output for the climb wasn’t bad, but I know it can be better.
Watching Boonen Crash. I don’t mean that it was a highlight for me to see him crash. I wish him a speedy recovery and hope he is alright, but I am simply thankful that it wasn’t me as I watched him flip over his handlebars. Simultaneously Theo Bos came down on my left, and I think his bike fell on my leg. This was the only crash I saw for the entire tour and I narrowly avoided it. (It was caused by some large bits of debris on the road). There were a few moments that were a little bit sketchy and would probably have resulted in a big crash if it weren’t for these guys being so experienced and good at handling their bikes.
Yas Marina Circuit. We raced around the F1 Grand Prix circuit on stage four at dusk. The racing around the race track was fast, averaging 46km/h for a little bit over two hours of racing. Each team was given a garage in the pits where riders got prepared before the stage start and the mechanics could work on bikes. This was the same area the F1 riders would sit in their car prior to racing. It’s just a shame the grandstands weren’t filled with spectators, but the TV coverage looked really cool with the lights on. Apparently there was live covering from on-bike cameras being used for the first time too.
Learning about the United Arab Emirates. When you travel to different parts of the world, particularly for the first time, it can be a real eye opening experience. It seems like there is no middle class here, only extremely wealthy people or those who struggle to make an average income. We went shopping in Yas Mall which is absolutely huge with high end retail stores and had barely any people in it. (I bought a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling Head Phones for the flight home. I’m expecting plenty more long-haul flights in the future.) It really makes me wonder what drives the economy here. The rumours are that crude oil plays less of a part in the economy than most people think, and ironically the UAE actually import lots of sand. There’s not much farm land here.
Humidity. This place is HOT! Really, really hot!! I didn’t think it would be cold in a desert, but man was it HOT! Did I mention it was hot? One day there was so much humidity the cars needed windscreen wipers on despite the blue skies. If you took your iPhone out of your pocket, the screen would instantly fog over and you could play temporary games of Tic-Tac-Toe. Most stages had temperatures recorded on average in the mid 40’s. To be totally honest, I really enjoyed the climate here. I’m not saying this temperature is ideal, but I would prefer it to be this hot than freezing cold and snowing. I developed a little nickname whilst over here by the team: Little Ags. – Agostino Giramondo – One of the teams directors is notorious for layering up with clothing and keeping the air-conditioning turned off at all times. I admit my wearing a down vest jacket in 40 degrees is a little bit extreme!
Signing with Drapac Professional Cycling Team. And lastly, in case you missed it, I have signed with Drapac for next year and can now consider myself at a professional cyclist!! The team was very happy with my performance here in Abu Dhabi, and I had a great experience with the riders and staff as well. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the announcement and interview from the latest Bike Lane S2 E3 here, online from SBS on demand. Here’s what I had to say about it.
“I am truly excited to be racing with Drapac Professional Cycling for the next two years as a Neo-Pro. The team has a really strong and diverse race program that will provide ample opportunities to race around the globe against the world’s best cyclists. I believe that I have unique attributes that coincide with the Michael Drapac’s three pillar philosophy of allowing athletes to perform at the highest level of the sport, whilst cultivating a pathway into life beyond cycling. I look forward to growing with the team, and cannot wait to race with Drapac Professional Cycling in 2016 and beyond.”
Thanks for reading,