Jan Polanc: I was immensely proud to spend two days in the coveted Pink Jersey at the Giro – it was the highlight of my year

Each week a cyclist or member of UAE Team Emirates writes for The National, providing insight from the UCI World Tour and offering their thoughts on the season

Giro d'Italia 2019 - 14th Stage Saint Vincent - Courmayeur (Skyway Monte Bianco) 131 km - 25/05/2019 - Jan Polanc (SLO - UAE - Team Emirates) - photo Dario Belingheri/BettiniPhoto©2019
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There’s more to riding a bike than just riding a bike and there’s more to leadership than just leading.

In our sport, an individual, who is also a member of a team, wins the race. This is unlike most other team sports, so we have to be very tactical and support whoever has the best chance to lead the race. Every great cyclist needs a great team to win, and every great team needs a great individual cyclist to win.

I am lucky enough to have had a great team behind me this year and when I look back at my season my personal highlight was the two days I spent wearing the coveted Pink Jersey whilst leading the Giro d’Italia.

If you ask any cyclist what springs to mind when they think of Italy, and the answer is unanimous, La Maglia Rosa (the Pink Jersey). This is worn by the leader of the general classification on the Giro d’Italia and is steeped in history.

The Tour of Italy is considered by many to be ‘the world’s toughest race, in the world’s most beautiful place’ so I was immensely proud to be in pink for two days.

It was also special to receive the Jersey from the back of my team mate, Valerio Conti, which meant that UAE Team Emirates led the race for a week.

After this achievement lots of Italian cycling fans wanted a selfie with me and everyone on the roads knew my name – it was so exciting.

The 2019 season was also a special one for my country, Slovenia. With only 2 million people, we are not a big country but just like the UAE, the passion for cycling is growing at an extraordinary rate.

We had a very successful season, which I am happy to have contributed to. For the first time, a Slovenian cyclist won a Grand Tour after Primoz Roglic sealed victory at the Vuelta a Espana.

The Vuelta was also special for my very good friend, compatriot and teammate Tadej Pogacar who finished on the podium. We have a deep bond of friendship and spend a lot of time together training and hanging out away from the bikes.

My last race of the 2019 season was Il Lombardia and one that I always enjoy riding in. After my fifth time competing, the beautiful scenery and iconic climbs are always something I look forward to.

I won the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia in 2012 which is a version of the race for under 23’s; the name means ‘Little Tour of Lombardia’.

The route was part of the course we raced on last Saturday so I'm pretty familiar with the parcours. Even though I was accustomed to the course, the Tour last week was very demanding as it seemed like the climbs were never-ending! Even the names of each climb are suggestive of the difficulty.

Il Lombardia 2019 - 113th Edition - Bergamo - Como 243 km - 12/10/2019 - Jan Polanc (SLO - UAE - Team Emirates) - photo Tommaso Pelagalli/BettiniPhoto©2019
Jan Polanc in action at last week's Il Lombardia - his last race of the 2019 season. BettiniPhoto

The Muro di Sormano has an ascent of 27 per cent and ‘Muro’ aptly means ‘wall’ in Italian which is what it feels like you’re climbing. ‘Battaglia’ in The San Fermo della Battaglia means ‘battle’ in Italian which is also aptly named because, after riding for 235km, you have a real battle against your legs which are just not willing to pedal anymore!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to race in the UAE this year, so I am really looking forward to coming back next week to recharge the batteries and gain focus on next season.

Every time I come to the UAE, I see that cycling is becoming more and more popular. It’s great to see people of all ages and backgrounds sharing a passion for a sport that I love so much.

For me, trips like this are very important. Meeting the fans, sponsors and knowing we’ve got a strong fanbase in the UAE is brilliant and a huge motivation for us all to do well.

You can see the project we are building and how much it means to people, I can speak for the team when I say this; we will do all we can to make UAE Team Emirates go right to the top.