Marc Hirschi has recovered from a minor injury and says he plans on disrupting the established order once again in time for the Ardennes Classics.
The breakthrough rider of the 2020 campaign, the Swiss dramatically changed teams at the beginning of the year, breaking his contract with Team DSM to join UAE Team Emirates.
Despite being relatively unknown coming out of lockdown, Hirschi went on to win a stage of the Tour de France, and was then victorious in La Flèche Wallonne, either side of finishing third at the World Championships and second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
But the 22-year-old has had to wait longer than he would have liked to make his debut for his new employers.
“The plan was to start with the UAE Tour, but I had to take a rest because I had a problem with my hip,” he told a small group of reporters at the start of the Volta a Catalunya, his first race.
“I didn’t feel good so we decided it was best to start in a good way and we decided to start later. I feel a lot better now.”
Hirschi leads his new team in the seven-day WorldTour race, the first time since last October that he gets to show onlookers the form he is capable of.
In his absence of racing, his principal opponents – namely Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe – have begun the season in spectacular form.
The trio are set to rematch several times in the coming month at the Cobbled and Ardennes Classics, and it’s at the latter races where Hirschi plans on joining the list of favourites again.
“It will be awesome,” he said when asked about competing against the aforementioned. “For sure I work hard every day and I hope to be there [at that level he was at before] again, to be in the best shape for the Classics. That’s my dream to be there.
“[Catalunya] is more about getting back into the racing level. It’s my first race so I am not sure where exactly I will start and it’s more to know how far I am from my top shape and I will take it day by day.”
Asked if it has been tough to watch them dominate races with him on the sidelines, the Swiss said: “Actually, not really no because they are riders who are strong always.
“For sure they are good riders for the Classics, and it will be the same in those races, but I just have focus on myself, on my own performance.
“It’s been nice to see them riding well. They have done great races and it’s been nice to watch the races.”
Having just returned from a fortnight of training in Gran Canaria, Hirschi is not setting himself big goals during the Catalan race but tellingly refused to rule himself out of contention for stage wins, with a number of stages appeared suited to punchy riders.
He added: “There’s not too much pressure on me here. It’s a super hard race so it’s definitely a good race to start.”