When Elia Viviani fails to deliver, you can always count on the feisty Italian to come out all guns blazing at the very next opportunity.
He seeks immediate redemption and more than likely, he gets it.
So after missing out on victory on the opening stage of the Dubai Tour on Tuesday despite a perfect effort from his Team Quick-Step lead-out, it came as no surprise when Viviani celebrated his 29th birthday on Wednesday by edging out blue jersey holder Dylan Groenewegen and a stellar cast of sprinters that included Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb to claim stage two of the five-day showpiece.
“It’s a special day,” Viviani told reporters after his win.
“It [My birthday] was really more motivation this morning in the start and I think a lot of motivation came also from yesterday’s stage. You know me after nine years as a pro, you always see when I lose it’s always the day after I’m really hungry and motivated to do better work.
“I was pretty disappointed yesterday because the feeling is that I can win but just missed the good side.”
Viviani moved from Team Sky to Quick-Step at the end of last season, knowing he would now have all the help he needs to pull off impressive sprint wins like the one he achieved on Wednesday.
“Yesterday they did a perfect job and I didn’t win so I felt really sorry at night but we were really motivated to do a better job today. We know I have a really good condition and for that we are really on it to try to win as many stages as we can,” added Viviani, who is an Olympic champion on the track having clinched omnium gold at Rio 2016.
The 190km stage two saw the peloton make its way from Skydive Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah and despite a late puncture for Viviani that required a 49-second wheel change with just 20km to go, the Italian won a sprint battle with Cavendish and crossed the finish line ahead of Team Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Groenewegen, who claimed second and retained his leader’s jersey.
“Cav put me on the limit in this sprint,” Viviani said as he re-watched the finish on TV while talking to the press.
Team Dimension Data’s Cavendish, competing in his opening event of the season, ended up in fourth place.
“Fourth is the same as if I get second. For me it’s win or nothing,” stated Cavendish, a 30-time stage winner at the Tour de France.
The ‘Manx Missile’ had won the Dubai Tour in 2015 with Quick-Step and noted the Belgian outfit’s stellar record in the Emirates as a strong reason behind Viviani’s stage two success.
“It was nice to see that I got a bit of confidence back,” said Cavendish.
“The team did it a better job and I have got the legs in the sprint. I lost to Elia, it’s not the first time I lost to Elia, so I can’t really complain about it.
“It doesn’t matter what the reasons are why he’s better than me today, that doesn’t matter, he beat me. Actually I’m happy for him. I wish him a happy birthday and obviously you can see that Quick-Step are strong in this race and I think it shows, Marcel (Kittel) won the last two years (with Quick-Step) but I think it’s Quick-Step that have made the difference here, and they’ve shown it again.
“I won here with Quick-Step and they’ve been the strongest team here so far.”
— Sport360° (@Sport360) February 7, 2018
Viviani is well aware of the golden opportunity he has at the moment, racing for a team like Quick-Step, and he has his sights set on some big targets.
At Sky, he was part of a squad that was built around GC riders like Chris Froome. Now, he has a lead-out that would be the envy of any sprinter out there.
He has already claimed two wins with his new team, taking a stage at the Tour Down Under last month, and now this triumph at Ras Al Khaimah. Still Viviani believes he has his work cut out for him and that he has to adapt to a new style of sprinting.
“Last year when I signed for Team Quick-Step, it was the moment where I understood that the next three or four years can be the best four years of my career. I have a good age, 29 from today, and I think it’s the best year to take the results,” Viviani said.
“I’m not a phenomenon, I work a lot for my goals, to win the biggest races and try to beat the best sprinters in the world.
“I think after the Olympics (taking gold on the track), mentally and physically I’m really on the top and from that point I’m really focused on the road.
“This year is no excuses, I have a really strong team.
“But we need to adjust, every sprint we need to adjust. I need to change also, because my sprint needs to change. Because nine times out of 10 they bring me in good position with free road to go and in the last eight years I’m always from the back, change wheel, follow this sprinter, follow the other team, so that is a big difference.
“We can miss a race like yesterday and maybe I lost in the Tour Down Under but that’s just in the first few months. After this there are no more excuses.”
Last August, Moroccan rider Anass Ait El Abdia was at the start line of the Vuelta a Espana alongside his UAE Team Emirates team-mates in Nimes, France, ready to write a new chapter for Arabs in the world of professional cycling.
El Abdia, and Team Dimension Data’s Youcef Reguigui of Algeria, were the only two Arab riders in the peloton, and are the first cyclists from the region to take part in a Grand Tour in modern times.
It was a huge opportunity for the 24-year-old El Abdia and a reward for his encouraging results in his debut season with the Emirati outfit.
But his Vuelta experience ended on Stage 2 as he crashed out of the race, and broke his collarbone in the process.
A devastating blow to what should have been a breakthrough moment for El Abdia, but six months later he looks back on it with a positive perspective.
“Crashing is part of the sport. As a pro, I had a job to do but I wasn’t lucky enough to do it,” El Abdia told Sport360 on the sidelines of the Dubai Tour.
“But I took a lot from that experience, crashing out, going through an emotional roller coaster like that… I got through it and now I know better about when to take a risk and when to take the safe route.
“I broke my clavicle and had surgery after that. It was the third time I broke that bone. I had to end my season early which was disappointing because I was in good form.
“But the team stuck by me, and supported me and they told me ‘we know you can get through this’ and keep going.”
Like Reguigui, El Abdia trained at the Centre Mondial du Cyclisme in Switzerland and used it as a springboard to launch his professional career.
The Moroccan spent three years there and got his first contract with a UCI WorldTour outfit last year when UAE Team Emirates came knocking on his door.
“It’s difficult to go pro as an Arab cyclist but it all comes down to discipline, a lot of training and hard work, and that worked out for me and I thank this team to give me the opportunity. I will give it my all,” he added.
“I learnt a lot from the Centre Mondial, eating the right food, being professional, and with time it becomes part of your DNA.”
El Abdia won the Tour of Morocco last season and placed sixth in the Youth Classification at the Tour de Romandie.
As a climber, he is riding the Dubai Tour in support of their star sprinter, European champion Alexander Kristoff. With his Vuelta crash and injury well behind him, he’s looking forward to a strong sophomore season with UAE Team Emirates.
“The Dubai Tour is like our home race. And even though I’m a climber, not a sprinter, I’m here to support my team-mates and it prepares me well for the European races. It’s also nice to be part of this and perhaps inspire some young Emirati riders here to take up the sport,” he said.
“My goal this year is to win one of the small tours in Europe and do well in the stages in the big tours. Hopefully I could take part in another Grand Tour this season, I have no preference as to which one, riding the Giro or the Tour or the Vuelta would be huge either way.”
Alex Dowsett has hailed the impact of new teammate Marcel Kittel and insists he will do what he can to ensure the German wins as many stages as possible at this year’s Dubai Tour.
Kittel, who won five stages on last year’s Tour de France, joined Team Katusha–Alpecin in January and has been a significant addition to the Swiss outfit since his arrival.
In Kittel, the team now has a focal point and a rider who can guarantee them over 10 wins throughout the year.
Dowsett, a top-10 finisher in Dubai last year, said: “This year it’s full board, dropping him (Marcel) off with 200 metres to go and making sure he wins as many stages as possible.”
“Everyone is motivated. If you’re racing for a guy that you know can win is one thing. If you’re racing for a guy who is pleasant and says thank you then you pull everything out.”
Kittel is no stranger to the Tour having won three stages last year en route to sealing a second consecutive title.
As he bids to win a third crown in the UAE, Kittel has an exciting lead out train in Marco Haller, Rick Zabel and Nils Politt, riders who possess power and pace to carry the 29-year-old to victory.
“Our job is to make sure he is fine. It doesn’t matter where we finish, once we get over the line. Once we get him in the best position we can stop pedalling,” said Dowsett.
“Even on the last stage, if I don’t make it to the finish line and Marcel wins, I’ve done my job.”
“It’s like being a goalkeeper in football. You don’t score goals. You help and you’re a crucial part of the team. It’s completely selfless.”
Dowsett, an Oakley ambassador said: “It’s great being back with the Oakley family, the Prizm lenses are by far the best and we’ve also started wearing the helmets which are coming out in April; they’re a game-changer.”