UAE Team Emirates’ Diego Ulissi will embark on his first ride since the Giro d’Italia as the Italian tackles the GP Lugano on Sunday.
The 28-year-old, who finished second in the 2016 edition of the race, will be supported by an experienced team in southern Switzerland including compatriots Filippo Ganna and Simone Consonni.
Joining them will be the promising quartet of Anass Ait El Abdia, Aleksandr Riabushenko, Jan Polanc and Ben Swift.
Commenting ahead of the race, Ulissi said: “I’ve lived in Lugano for years now, so this race has practically become a home event for me.
“In 2014 and 2016, my last two appearances in the GP Lugano, I came close to success, achieving third and second place respectively in the final sprint.
“Usually the race comes down to a limited group of riders vying for victory, so it is important to make it into the lead positions in the conclusive laps.”
A one-day UCI European Tour race, the GP Lugano will see the peloton take on a 186km route through southern Switzerland with two notable climbs – from Lugano to Agra and Muzzano to Gentilino.
The climbs are sure to test the legs, but UAE will be hoping that their combination of riders will be able to mount a serious challenge and take home the title.
Elsewhere, Dan Martin will continue his preparations for the Tour de France when he leads a strong UAE outfit at the Criterium du Dauphine, which gets underway in Valence today.
The 31-year-old Irishman, who finished third in the 2016 and 2016 editions of the race, will have one eye on the Tour de France when he tackles the seven-stage race in France.
He said: “The Criterium du Dauphine is always a good test before the Tour de France, but given that this year there’s an extra week between the end and the start of the Tour de France, I expect that my form will be slightly behind with respect to previous years.
“The Dauphine is important also because it’s a mini-Tour de France, with an individual time trial, a team time trial – things that are hard to mimic in training – and because we race on some of the same roads that we are going to face in the 11th stage of the Tour.”
Viviani, 29, enjoyed a supreme 2018 Giro on home soil, where he won four of the 21 stages. The Quick-Step Floors rider made the ciclamino jersey his own, wearing it for the first time after winning Stage 2 in Tel Aviv and taking it off Stage 1 winner and 2017 Giro champion Tom Dumoulin.
Viviani was not going to relinquish his hold on it easily and wore it for the next 20 stages to be crowned points classification king, with 341 points, 59 ahead of Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett.
And Viviani is ecstatic to have joined a long list of compatriots who also wore mauve at the Giro over the years.
“It’s a sprinter’s dream to wear this jersey. It’s like the green jersey in the Tour (de France). I wear also the red jersey in the last few years but when it went back to the ciclamino jersey I think it has more history,” said the affable Italian, who hopes future cyclists will perhaps look up to him one day as one of his country’s greats.
“(Alessandro) Petacchi won the jersey, (Daniele) Bennati also in the ciclamino jersey, (Mario) Cipollini. I see my jersey and I think ‘Oh maybe in a few years some other sprinters see me in the jersey and they dream about being like me’.”
Viviani has lived in the shadows of other riders for much of his career. He was even overlooked for his home race at Team Sky a year ago, as Chris Froome led the team.
And Viviani took that as a sign that the time had come to move on. He’s since signed for Quick-Step and has been on fire in the first half of 2018.
He won Stage 2 on his way to the points classification jersey at the Abu Dhabi Tour in February, having won two stages, the points and overall title at the Dubai Tour weeks earlier.
He was also runner-up at Gent–Wevelgem, fueling his burgeoning reputation as one of the best sprinters in cycling. And now he has a coveted home win to call his own, but he is not content to stop now.
“Being a rider of Quick-Step is a big chance. That team is a sprinter team,” Viviani said.
“All the guys are really good to do leadouts and 10 times from 10 sprints I can play for the win. Year by year I want to always improve. Now we are on the top and it is not the end but the start of the best years of my career.”
Viviani paid tribute to his team and fellow Quick-Step riders, referred to as the Wolfpack, for their efforts at this year’s Giro.
And having for so long felt like an outcast at Sky, Viviani is feeling right at home with the Belgian team.
“Being part of Quick-Step is amazing and being part of the Wolfpack is more amazing again, they believe in me,” added Viviani, the 2016 Olympic champion in the omnium.
Viviani’s chances of a third stage win in Imola were ruined by the rain and fierce crosswinds, but he recovered to claim victory on the following day’s Stage 13 from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia – Viviani was also triumphant on Stage 3 and 17.
He added: “All the team around me the night after Imola, we celebrate like a win just to put a smile back on the face. In the difficult moment we bring always our strong part inside and then in my head I need to smash it tomorrow because these guys deserve this.
“I’m really quiet but I transform myself in the last km. The adrenaline starts to go up, I start to analyse everything around me; the wind, the riders, I start to see if I’m in a good position, if I need to start the sprint, when and where, and in this moment is where my determination starts to come out.
“In the bus you have guys like (Philippe) Gilbert, (Niki) Terpstra, (Julian) Alaphilippe, Bob (Jungels), all these big games and they ride for you, for one rider they decide to sacrifice their results for you, that is the secret of the Wolfpack.”
Outside the team he also heaped praise on the Quick-Step fans and his partner Elena Cecchini, who is also a professional cyclist.
“To be a sprinter you need sometimes to be a little bit crazy. Always in sprints there is some risk, you take risks if you want to win. To have all these people around me like a fan club was really amazing,” he added.
“They celebrate with me in the Nervasa della Battaglia (after Stage 13 win) and I think it gave me more power in the legs but also the mind.
“Elena is a pro cyclist so that has helped me a lot because she understands everything. When we can I do sacrifice to go to her and then when she can she comes to me.”
After crashing in the prologue and fading like a flower for large spells of the race, Chris Froome has blossomed to become the first Briton to win the Giro d’Italia – but the pre-race favourite didn’t have it all his way over the past three weeks.
Trailing by over three minutes heading into Friday’s third last stage, it looked like compatriot and long-time maglia rosa holder Simon Yates was all but set to clinch a first Grand Tour victory.
But for the first time in 15 days, the man who has won four Tour de France titles and is considered one of the greatest cyclists of all time burst to life and showed us his true pedigree.
Friday’s mammoth 185km stage to Bardonecchia was cycling at its rawest and thrilling best. With Yates struggling at the back of the peloton, Froome and his Team Sky set the pace like a Maserati charging around an F1 street circuit.
With a grueling 80km still remaining, Froome attacked on the Colle delle Finestre, a mountain that makes the body shake by even looking at. Too many times in the past we’ve seen riders attack too early and it all end in tears, but the Briton sparkled on the hills of northern Italy, with each pedal stronger than the next.
As he crossed the finish line to record one of the most extraordinary stage wins in Giro history, the margin of his effort meant he donned pink for the first time, finishing over three minutes ahead of reigning champion Tom Dumoulin and nearly 39 minutes ahead of Yates.
Yet, strangely, before this, he was nowhere to be seen – apart from his win on Stage 14 – with most people believing his lack of form and confidence was down to the distractions of the ongoing anti-doping case against him.
Three weeks ago many believed Froome shouldn’t have been on the start line in Jerusalem with the positive test for the banned substance salbutamol from last September at the Vuelta a Espana continuing to hang over his name and reputation.
He dismisses any wrong doing and is fighting his case with the UCI, but too many times before in this sport we have heard similar stories with a sad ending.
It’s easy to imagine the pressure from the world’s media, coupled with certain members of the peloton criticising him, was affecting his focus and momentum during the early stages of the race.
But until a ban is issued or statement to clear his name circulated, we can only speculate as to what the result will be and what it will do to his status going forward.
For now, the 33-year-old remains one of the greatest-ever cyclists – only the third man in history along with Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault to hold the Tour de France, Vuelta and Giro titles at the same time.
It’s a phenomenal feat considering the three races navigate the most arduous terrains around Europe and offer little rest for those who consider themselves to be strong enough to challenge for general classification honours.
His Giro victory is nothing short of spectacular, with the historic stage win on Friday sure to live long in the memory of cycling fans worldwide, especially after he looked down and out when crashing hard before the Jerusalem time trial.
Whether Froome will be on the start line bidding for his fifth Tour de France crown in July remains to be seen, but there is no doubt he is the undisputed king of world cycling at the moment.