Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) says he hopes to make the most of his usual menu of Grand Tour general classification battles to aim for a new focus of single races this fall. But this change of program also means that he is already making progress in a race like the Tour of Poland.
Ninth overall in the Tour de France last year and fifth in the Giro d’Italia in May and 2020, Bilbao was due to take part in the Vuelta a España this fall.
But instead of a second Grand Tour in 2022, the Basque all-rounder will soon focus on one-day races. And after the Tour of Poland, where it currently sits second overall, in September Bilbao will face the one-day races of the Canadian WorldTour.
Bilbao told Cycling news his change of direction mid-term also brought him direct benefits here and now, as he saw on Monday’s tough little climb in Poland, where he finished second behind the stage winner and leader of the Sergio Higuita race (Bora-Hansgrohe) .
“I went back to my roots in that sense, training to try to be fresher and more explosive for the one-day races ahead,” Bilbao said.
“Before, I was aiming for the GC rankings, so I focused more on the aerobic side of things. But now I’ve really reduced the duration and volume of my training rides, and I’ve been doing sets, derny workouts and more intense runs, anaerobic workouts, etc. And it’s benefited me here too.”
Although Bilbao’s only big test of his performance in the hard-hitting climbs he will face in the Canadian Classics came well in Poland, he was understandably disappointed that he couldn’t beat Higuita on the line.
“I had good support from young people in my team like Steve [Williams] and [Eduardo] Zambanini and I were maybe a bit too conservative and levelheaded at the end and lost a few positions as a result,” he said of the climb.
“I didn’t throw in the towel, I saw that the guys in front were losing their motor skills and almost without wanting to, I found myself in front. A bit like Higuita. Then in the last 200 yards and I lent too much [Quinten] Hermans [Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux] rather than following Sergio, who I should have said was the favourite.
“It’s a shame, I was disappointed not to be able to finish the work of the teammates, but I was happy because I hadn’t raced for quite a while.”
Just 24 hours later, Bilbao were lucky to miss the accident which saw Higuita injure his right knee, he said, but as Thursday’s time trial draws near he doesn’t is still not too optimistic about the succession of João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates). among the winners of the Tour of Poland.
“I’m in a good position in the GC in this race, which of course counts, but the time trial will be the most important part of getting the win. We all know that the other six stages have very little effect. on the overall result”, Bilbao, currently four seconds behind Higuita.
“I’m very aware that a lot of the riders behind me are great TT specialists, although I’ll try to do the best I can in the time trial. I hope I can go back a bit and do them as well as before. We will see. As they say, you don’t buy a ticket, you will never win the lottery.
When it comes to the time trial, Bilbao are perhaps a bit more pessimistic than they should be, given that they won the Spanish national TT championships as recently as 2020.
But if he surprised himself on Thursday’s short 11-kilometre uphill effort and made enough of a run to take the overall lead, Bilbao would be on course for an even bigger breakthrough: his first-ever overall victory in a stage race, at the age of 32.