Taking to the start line for first time since mid-June, Pavel Sivakov wasn't sure what to expect in Poland last week. Seven days later he stood atop the podium resplendent in the race's yellow jersey, his first WorldTour victory in the bag.
Although hopeful of stepping up, Sivakov admits he wasn't expecting to enjoy such an encouraging second year as a professional, after a challenging first year in the pro ranks. Sidelined by a niggling knee problem in the early months of 2018 and forced to abandon the Vuelta a Espana due to a rough crash towards the end of his maiden WorldTour campaign, it was far from a dream start to life on the team.
I could really feel that I’d stepped up in the beginning of the season.
"I had a really good winter in Australia. I was out there for six weeks, training and racing. It was completely different to last year where I struggled for three months with an injury. I could really feel that I’d stepped up in the beginning of the season. It’s been a really good year for me."
Sivakov went into the Tour of Poland flanked by co-leader Tao Geoghegan Hart and the young duo - who also worked together so well at the Tour of the Alps - were able to use their numerical advantage during the race's key moments to perfection.
In the race's key final two stages the trio combined to devstating effect in the hills of southern Poland.
"I have to say in those last two days we rode it perfectly, tactically. When Swifty went on stage six it was perfect for me and Tao, we just had to control from behind, and then when I went away with [Jai] Hindley and [Jonas] Vingegaard, it was 50/50 between Tao and I who found themselves in the good breakaway.
"The day after we were in a good position, second on GC, and the boys did a really good job keeping us up front all day. Michal [Golas], Salvatore [Puccio], and in the final Tao was amazing once more. He was one of the strongest in the race.
"Tao and I get on well. We were sharing a room in Poland and it’s a really good relationship. What he did for me in the Alps and now in Poland, I’m really grateful for that, and if I have to do something for him in the future I will never hesitate."
However, the entire race was overshadowed by the tragic death of Bjorg Lambrecht. The young Lotto Soudal rider suffered a fatal accident on stage three in Poland. Siavkov and Lambrecht were the same age and had been close competitors as they made their way through the junior ranks of the sport.
Sivakov said: "Of course, I dedicate this win to him. It was such sad news. It was hard for everybody there at the race. He was a really good talent and a really good guy. I wouldn’t say that I knew him really well but I raced a lot with him. We are the same age and he was my biggest rival in 2017, in my last year as an under 23. In all of the big stage races that year we were always fighting for the victory and I’ve been thinking about those races a lot over the last few days. When I heard the news… It wasn’t easy. It’s so sad for cycling to lose Bjorg.
"All of the little problems you think you have, when you hear this, it’s really nothing. There are much more important things in life than cycling. I completely agreed with the decision to neutralise stage four. Nobody was able to race that day.
"Bjorg was a fighter, he never gave up on the bike, and after stage four we tried to do our best in the race to honour him. He would have wanted us to race."
"It’s better not to rush things," he added. "Guys who are good in Poland usually do the Vuelta but I spoke with the team, we have so much experience here, and we decided that it would be better this year to just stick with the Giro and finish the season with some other good races. This career is long. I am only 22 at the moment and I will have the time to do two Grand Tours in a season across my career. It’s better to back off a little now - although that’s hard to do! When things are going well it’s easy to get carried away and do too much. I will have a good programme and end the season with a good amount of race days. I think it’s the right decision not to race the Vuelta.
"I should be at the start for Tour of Britain and I think that’s the perfect preparation for the Worlds on similar roads in the same country. Also with the TT there I’d really like to work on my TT towards the end of the season. It will be a good test and a good target. I’ve never done the Tour of Britain but obviously on this team I’ve heard good things about it."