Elia Viviani insists he and Fernando Gaviria can co-exist at Quick-Step Floors despite the fact the young Colombian’s rapid rise could set the two sprinters on a collision course with one another.
Marcel Kittel is one of the finest sprinters in modern-day cycling, yet felt the need to move on from Quick-Step to Katusha-Alpecin during the off-season due to the remarkable rise of the precocious South American talent Gaviria.
Kittel has made no attempt to hide the fact the rise of Gaviria was the principal reason for his departure. The giant German hinted last summer that a lack of guarantees about his place in the Quick-Step team for this year’s Tour de France squad following four stage wins for Gaviria at last year’s Giro d’Italia – on his Grand Tour debut – was one of the reasons behind his departure.
While Kittel may have rightly been irked by his place at Le Tour coming under threat despite 14 stage wins since 2013 – including five a year ago – Viviani would be more than happy to let Gaviria take the sprinter’s role as he focuses on his home race of the Giro.
Viviani, winner of the Abu Dhabi Tour’s Stage 2 on Thursday, had been considering his options after being snubbed for a place in Team Sky’s squad for last year’s Giro.
Viviani has previously battled fiercely with Gaviria, at the Track Cycling World Championships in the UK in 2016. The Colombian won gold ahead of Roger Kluge and Glenn O’Shea, with Italian Viviani having to settle for fourth despite finishing just two points adrift of the youngster.
But he insists the relationship is now improved.
“We are in the same team. We are not competitors. We only do a few races together, our relationship is really improved now,” Viviani said after claiming the red leader’s jersey at the Yas Beach finish line when asked if he felt the pressure having emerging sprinter Gaviria as a teammate as well as potential rival.
“If you remember in the track worlds we battled for the rainbow jersey and in the Olympics too. I have a lot of respect for Fernando. He’s been one of the most phenomenal riders in the peloton over the last few years.”
Gaviria’s stellar 2017 brought him 14 individual wins, with his four standout victories at the Giro bringing him the points jersey. He ironically shared the roll of honour with departing teammate Kittel and Jakub Mareczko, another rising star with Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia.
It was also a watershed year for Viviani, who won a career best nine races. And the 29-year-old hopes he can break into double figures this year, a feat completely plausible with victory in Abu Dhabi already his fifth of a fledgling 2018.
He added: “I hope we win more than everyone. I’ve never won more than nine races in the season, I’ve never own 10 so this is a good goal, I hope to win more.
“There’s no pressure on either him or me because we don’t compete in many races together. I have my programme and I’m happy with it. I hope he wins the same as me or more than me and that can be really good for the team.”
Upon signing for Belgium-based Quick-Step in August, Viviani described the move as boarding “a train that only passes once”. And he has inherited a particularly potent sprint train at Quick-Step, one that carried Kittel to so many vital victories over his two years with the team – 26 to be precise.
“I feel really lucky. It’s such a different way to do the sprints. You need to believe in your team-mates because even behind or ahead you know the other guys can go as fast as you,” he said.
“In the last few years I’ve always trained sprinting in the last 1km because it’s what I need to do for the last kick. Now I just need to stay focused and on the wheel of Saba (fellow Italian Fabio Sabatini). Also today we lost Morko (Michael Morkov) on the last corner but Saba did the effort and with 500m to go he put me in a good position.
“It’s all about the timing when you go. In all the sprints I do I never finish outside the top five. If you have that chance minimum three or four you win so that’s why we’re taking these really big results in the early part of the season.”
And he poured particular praise on Sabatini, the 33-year-old veteran who has worked well with Kittel in the last two years but opted to stay at Quick-Step and join forces with Viviani.
“Yeah, I think so,” when asked if Sabatini was the best leadout man in cycling.
“But it’s not just what I think, it’s the facts speaking. He did a good job the last few years with Kittel, he works really well for the sprinters. He’s the difference I didn’t have in Liquigas for sure. I think he can make the difference in all my races.
“He is really calm. He has a good feeling with Michael. I think we have the two best because I also believe Mas (Enric Mas) is one of the best. I believe in him. If I lose one or two of them I still have a good chance with Saba. I think he can be the best, if he’s not already the best.”
Echelons made Stage 2 of the Abu Dhabi Tour a very competitive race with the threat of losing it all for some of the big names in contention but Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) continued his winning streak after he successfully raced at the Tour Down Under in Australia and claimed two stages and the overall classification of the Dubai Tour.
Young guns Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounded out the podium while Viviani succeeded to Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) in the Red Jersey.
1 - Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) 148km in 3h15’30”, average speed 45.421km/h
2 - Danny Van Poppel (Team Lotto NL - Jumbo) s.t.
Elia Viviani took control of the Abu Dhabi Tour as he won Stage 2 in a sprint finish ahead of Danny van Poppel and Pascal Ackermann on Thursday.
The win moved Quick-Step Floors rider Viviani to the top of the General Classification, tied on time with now-second-ranked Alexander Kristoff, with the UAE Team Emirates rider finishing seventh, as LottoNL-Jumbo rider Van Poppel moved into third at four seconds adrift.
Italian Viviani and Norwegian Kristoff did well to get in on the enthralling finale following a chaotic stage dominated by windy conditions.
After the initial breakaway group had been caught, three separate groups formed in echelons to combat fierce crosswinds, with Viviani and Kristoff struggling in testing conditions in the third group.
But both stormed back into contention inside the final 20km, with winner Viviani praising the work of his Quick-Step colleagues.
“I need to break the ice on the first day of a stage race. Usually, I don’t win the first sprint. It’s been the case again but I was very confident today,” said the 2016 Olympic track champion.
“Also in the echelons, I felt strong and I was willing to pull. We had Julian Alaphilippe and Enric Mas in the front group. It was good for our GC but we also wanted to win the stage, so I asked the guys to wait for me and close the gap.
“When we regrouped with 20km to go, I said we put all our efforts into the last corner. Young Alvaro Hodeg is unbelievable in his preparation for my sprint.
“Michael Morkov is always in the right place and I trust Fabio Sabatini 100 per cent for the lead out. With such a team, it was easy for me to finish it off.”
A five-man break group dominated the first half of the race, from Yas Island to Yas Beach (148km), but they were caught again at the feed zone.
Movistar and Katusha-Alpecin took advantage of crosswinds to rip the race wide open, dropping not only race leader Kristoff and Viviani but several GC candidates.
But, after a furious chase, the race finally came back together within the final kilometers, leading to the expected mass sprint finish.
On the podium Viviani was rewarded with the race leader’s red jersey, as well as the points leader’s green jersey.
European champion Kristoff, meanwhile, said: “Today I didn’t have the same power as I had yesterday. There were other guys passing me and Viviani was very fast, but I was happy to fight for a good position today.
“The team put me in a positive position and I was in the mix with the other riders. We have another race tomorrow to try and grab a win in what should be a good day for the sprinters.”