Being back with the team is a huge thrill. After such a long time being stuck inside at home, seeing all my teammates and getting back on the road at the biggest races in the world is like a dream come true.
The lockdown was really tough for all of us, maybe even more so for professional cyclists as our job involves riding bikes and being outside. It’s what we know and it’s what we love doing, so when that gets taken away from you, you have to adapt and refocus.
I was very disciplined with my training. This usually included an early morning session on the indoor trainer before breakfast, followed by an afternoon session with some more specific intervals.
The most difficult part was training without knowing what my objectives and goals would be. We had no idea when racing would resume or what the calendar would look like so we couldn’t build up our form to peak at a specific time like we usually do. It was just a matter of getting into a routine.
That said, there were some upsides. I spent the majority of the quarantine in Monaco with my wife. In that sense it was great because we don’t normally get to spend so much time together with all the races and the travelling.
I was also quite lucky because I live in the same apartment block as Tadej Pogacar and Valerio Conti so we were in communication a lot and keeping each other motivated.
The atmosphere in the team has been fantastic throughout the whole pandemic. The team has left no stone unturned when it comes to looking after our health, both mental and physical. We have a big WhatsApp group with the entire team and all the staff, which means there’s an ongoing dialogue and we all feel connected.
This definitely helped me stay positive and focused on my training – which seems to have paid off with my current form.
The podium spot at Strade Bianche was a great confidence boost. It is a beautiful race, but I suffered a bit with the heat. It’s an amazing experience to race those white gravel roads, especially as they are in my home country.
Behind-the-scenes at the Vuelta a Espana with UAE Team Emirates
Of course, there is a little bit of regret for having missed a beautiful victory, but second place is a result I’m proud of and it topped off a good week for the team.
Looking ahead, I have other big ambitions the season, like defending my Italian national champions jersey and also putting in a strong performance with the team at the Tour de France.
With the Grand Tours coming up, the lack of fans is noticeable, but it doesn't change the way we race, it's still full gas! There are still a few people on the sides of the road, but the days of big crowds are gone, for this year at least.
Luckily cycling is a sport you can enjoy from the television, so we hope everyone – especially our fans back in the UAE – are cheering us on from their living rooms.
In a few weeks I will do the Tour de France, my first ever Tour. My training has gone really well, I have spent several weeks at altitude camp and I feel like a lot of the hard work is done. Now it's time to show myself in the races.
After the Tour I'll be able to take a break, but not a very long one because we have a tightly packed schedule of racing all the way until November.