Pello Bilbao is set to target the Tour de France again next season as he looks to replicate much of what was a highly-successful, albeit sorrowful, campaign with Bahrain Victorious.
The Spaniard identified the Tour as a 2024 goal following his stage 10 win and career-best sixth-place finish at this year’s race, which he entered grieving the loss of teammate Gino Mäder, who died in a crash at the preceding Tour de Suisse where the pair both lined up.
“It’s been the most special season,” Bilbao told Cyclingnews. “I live it in a really intense way, many things happened – good ones, and really bad ones – but in the end I learned that when you ride with emotions and when you [love] the job you are doing the big things come.
“I would rate with an eight out of 10.”
Bilbao, speaking at the Saitama Criterium, an exhibition event in Japan that he attended with his partner and toddler earlier this month, was on what he believed to be career-best form, then he decided to have a break after the Tour.
The Vuelta a España was never on the cards, he said, having come to a general agreement with his team to focus on one Grand Tour a season.
“In the beginning I was trying to do a huge calendar, but it was more difficult to have highlights during the season. We change this and for now it’s working and for the family it’s much better,” Bilbao explained.
Enjoying the day-by-day fight
Instead of exploiting his shape, the 33-year-old opted for a holiday in north-west Spain with his young family, travelling in their camper van.
“After the Tour de France, and after being second [to Remco Evenepoel] in San Sebastian, I was maybe in my best shape ever, but I felt I needed to stop,” he said.
“The last months were so, so intense, with preparation for the Tour more intense than ever. I wanted to arrive in my best shape. I needed to work super intense. Also, with my new situation, with small children at home, this makes everything, I won’t say harder, because in the end everything it brings us is positive, but more intense, you need to do more work, you arrive at the end of each day completely tired.”
The Tour will ideally be his main goal next year with his race programme, minus the Tour Down Under in January. However, Bilbao was unsure of what his objectives at La Grande Boucle would be, reluctant to make any sweeping statements on entering as a title contender.
“I would like to focus more on the stages but every time I go with this idea…