Riders feel the heat ahead of the big season opener

Today marked the first day of the 2015 UCI WorldTour season and even the biggest stars competing at the Tour Down Under were nervous before the start.

“I think if you don’t get nervous before a race you should stop doing any sport, or actually anything,” said German sprinter Marcel Kittel.

Kittel over the past two seasons has emerged as the fastest sprinter in the bunch but even he suffered from some pre-race anxiety prior to the People’s Choice Classic prelude criterium on the weekend.

“I think it shows motivation and that you are still eager to win and to go for it, so it’s, for me, actually pretty important to feel like that,” he continued.

A convincing victory at the criterium made for a somewhat more relaxed start to the tour today for the eight-time Tour de France stage winner. However, plenty of pros in the peloton admitted to a few pre-race butterflies, some speaking openly of them and others tellingly choosing to stay in the unperturbed haven of a team car.

The peloton on stage one of the 2015 Tour Down Under

The peloton passes bushfire damaged trees on stage one of the 2015 Tour Down Under

“Every time I put my number on for the first time in the season I get nervous. I was nervous even though it’s my ninth pro season,” said Etixx-Quick Step title contender Gianni Meersman. “The first three or four laps you get used to it and then the feeling is it’s great to be back on the bike and in the peloton,” he observed of the prelude criterium.

January races are unique in that the majority of riders start on the back of months of pre-season training, and no competition. The vibe is akin to that ‘back to school’ feeling after a long break. New kit, sharp haircuts, fresh ambitions and the unknown of where everyone else is at comparative to you. There’s also the business aspect. Being WorldTour, points, and so forth, accumulated can improve on a team’s position at latter European races in regards to car convoy place and so on.

“I’m not normally nervous but I didn’t do much racing last year, so it was a bit different today,” former British national champion Ian Stannard observed after stage one and a 2014 season in which he broke his back in a heavy crash at Gent-Wevelgem. “As long as I stay upright this year it will be alright.”

Twitter: @SophieSmith86