'Race return tough but finding form ahead of Giro my ultimate goal'
Tuesday, April 29: Prologue: Individual Time Trial - Ascona (5.5km)
Not having raced since the Milan-San Remo Classic on March 23, today's opening time trial at the Tour of Romandie in Switzerland was a bit of a shock to the system and still has me spluttering and coughing a couple of hours after the finish in Ascona.
After completing Milan-San Remo, I spent almost three weeks at altitude on Mount Etna in Italy with my Tinkoff-Saxo team before going home for a few days to recover.
While I was supposed to ride the Ardennes Classics – the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche-Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – last week, I felt I needed to do some more long 15km-20km climbs to get ready for the three-week Giro d'Italia, which starts in Belfast on May 9.
I asked the team if I could skip the Classics, stay at altitude a bit longer and then ride a stage race instead to get back that rhythm of racing over the big mountains, so they changed my programme at the last minute and now I'm here in Big Mountain Central – Switzerland.
The Tour of Romandie is a six-day race, with four tough mountain stages sandwiched in between a 5.5km opening prologue and an 18.5km closing time trial.
Even though I've been training really intensely at altitude with the rest of the team, there's nothing like a six-minute, flat-out effort to welcome you back to the WorldTour.
After breakfast, I did an hour and a half on the bike before a little lie-down and some lunch. At 2.30, myself and team-mates Oliver Zaugg and Rafal Majka left the hotel and headed to the start. The last three riders from the team to start today, we got changed on the team bus at the start area and did our warm-ups on the home trainers lined up in front of the bus.
Sandwiched in between Ricardo Zoidl of Trek and Peter Velits of BMC, I rolled down the start ramp at 5.08, the seventh-last man off.
I felt I started off fast today and actually felt pretty good on the totally flat 5.5km course until the second half of the race, where it got a bit more technical. I normally like to use a bigger gear in time trials but today the latter end of the course was so technical, that I had a 55-tooth outer chain-ring on to help pick up speed quicker exiting the tight bends.
Still, I felt I didn't have that zip needed to sprint out of the corners today and had lost 20 seconds to stage winner Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma Quickstep and 10 seconds to Tour de France champion Chris Froome of Sky at the line, good enough for 51st place from 151 starters, just one second faster than Rafal.
Some people say it takes a few days of racing to readjust to coming down from altitude but today was so short it was hard to tell.
For me, the worst part of training at altitude was the constant feeling of jetlag. Although I always got a good night's sleep, I felt as if my body clock was a bit askew and I was constantly tired.
Between racing and training camps, I've only been home for about 15 days since the start of January, so it was nice to eventually get a week sitting on my own couch and sleeping in my own bed last week, even if I was very tired and spent the first few days just creeping along the seafront.
It took about four days of recovery rides before I was able to train properly again but the week flew by and now it's back to racing.
My Tinkoff-Saxo squad have a good team here. With Ollie, Rafal, Chris Juul Jensen, Jay McCarthy, Evgeny Petrov, Pawel Poljanski and Eduard Beltran, we have a mixture of young riders and experienced hands.
Myself and Polish rider Rafal are the designated leaders this week. We got some good hard training in on Mount Etna but we want to test ourselves here, see where we are compared to our rivals and pick up some form over the six days.
While I have to be careful not to dig too deep in my first race back, I'm not going to ease up if I'm in with a chance of doing something here.
Tomorrow's 120km road stage should give us some indication of where we're at, with an almost 30km first-category climb halfway through and another second-category ramp 19km from the finish in Sion.
While the ultimate goal is to be in form for the Giro, I'd like to know where I stand at the minute. The Tour of Romandie is an important race, a big race. Nobody is here on holidays. It's a WorldTour event and we're here to race.