Minutes before logging on to the Zoom call to gaze upon the large, gentle eyes of Swiss rider Marc Hirschi, a WhatsApp message pops up for all of the media who sent in questions for the young Swiss rider.
"In response to some of your enquiries, Marc won't be able to address details of the departure from his former team as per the non-disclosure agreement which he signed. Thanks."
The fact interest still swirls over Hirschi's surprise departure from DSM to UAE Team Emirates at the start of the year speaks to not only the talent of the 22-year-old, but also the ascension of his new Tour de France-winning team, and the addition of Rafal Majka, Matteo Trenting and Hirschi will only increase their strength.
Hirschi is keen to play down any further discussion of his transfer, saying the difference between his previous and current employers is not that vast.
"Actually it’s similar," Hirschi said of the two WorldTour outfits. "I mean, at the end of the day both teams are pretty professional in the basics, in the end, you have to ride your bike fast, it’s not a big difference."
He finally got his UAE Team Emirates career going at the Volta a Catalunya in March, the original plan being to debut at the UAE Tour in February, before injury and necessary adjustment to his new equipment got in the way.
"This injury I have had already for a while because I have a small difference in leg size so it’s also come from there," Hirschi explained. "It’s not just an equipment change that’s the issue. I’m working on it but I’m improving a lot. It’s not [difficult when] out of the saddle, it’s in the saddle that’s the problem.
"I also had a tooth problem that was a bit of a s**t moment, just before altitude camp, I had to take one week off there, I was just not ready to start in the UAE Tour."
But now attention turns to the Ardennes. He's looking forward to an Amstel Gold Race with a route that more closely resembles the Canadian WorldTour races, GPs Quebec and Montreal, where he says the likes of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert will be favourite over him, before someone points out that Van der Poel isn't riding, to which Hirschi laughs and looks a little bit relieved.
After Amstel comes Flèche Wallonne, where Hirschi is defending champion. He appears relaxed, having already won a fair amount for a 22-year-old, and is mostly focused on getting a good position at the bottom of the Mur de Huy.
"To arrive in a good position and don't expend unnecessary energy," are two of the main requirements of winning Flèche, according to Hirschi. "On the Mur it's mostly on feeling, you don't have time to watch your power. As you saw last year, it’s important not to go too early. Also [not to be too far back] so you don't have to gain position in the climb."
Whether the brief disruption to life at his new team has impacted his form at all, Hirschi admits he is maybe not at his top, top form, to the relief of his rivals, but his quiet confidence tells he will likely be there at the pointy end.
"I think it’s hard to say what my shape now is, after the Basque Country my shape was going in a good direction, I have to admit that right now I'm not in top shape but we'll have to see how it goes, I'm still confident."
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