The 29-year-old Quick-Step Floors rider carried into La Vuelta the superb form that propelled him to a well-deserved win at the Cyclassics Hamburg one week ago and at the Italian national road championships in June, comfortably sprinting to victory on the race’s third stage.
Stage 3 saw the peloton travel from Mijas over 178.2 kilometers that packed a total of 2,600 meters of elevation and a 20km-long first-category climb in the first part of the day.
“This wonderful season continues with a beautiful and very special moment,” said Viviani, who is enjoying a superb 2018.
“First Vuelta win, first Grand Tour victory in the Italian champion jersey, all these make up for a perfect day, but I couldn’t have pulled it off without this incredible team, who did again a marvelous job.
“It was difficult to control such a tough stage by our own for 90 per cent of the time, but we prevailed again thanks to the Wolfpack’s fantastic spirit.”
A beaming Viviani captured his 16th success of the year.
Quick-Step did what they know best on Monday, controlling a six-man breakaway for the most part of the day, not panicking even with 40km to go, when five riders attacked from the bunch trying to stir things up, and bringing everything back together 10km from the finish, before taking Viviani to the front with the flamme rouge in sight.
Led out by Danish Champion Michael Morkov, Viviani made his jump inside the final 200 meters and put in a storming sprint, beating Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) by a bike length.
Viviani, riding La Vuelta for the second time in his career, was eyeing this stage before the start of the race and at the finish was full of praise for his teammates, who perfectly executed the plan concocted at the pre-stage briefing in Mijas.
“There’s no such thing as an easy stage in a Grand Tour, and especially in the Vuelta, where he had a lot of climbing in store for what on the roadbook presented itself was a flat stage,” he added.
“We knew what to expect, because we did a recon last week, so Kasper (Asgreen) and Pieter (Serry) pulled at the front the entire day, then as we got closer to the finish, Dries (Devenyns) kept a high speed, before Michael put me in an ideal position, from where I went immediately as I noticed Sagan making his move.
“With some tailwind, I felt that it was the right moment to go and I am happy for how things panned out in the end.”
Viviani – who netted Quick-Step Floors’ 85th Grand Tour stage victory – wasn’t the only rider of the team to take it to the podium on Monday afternoon.
Laurens De Plus, who wore the white jersey of the combined classification, retained his fourth place in the overall standings and was rewarded with the best young rider prize.
“The goal was to control the stage and win it with Elia, and having accomplished that makes up happy,” said De Plus ahead of Stage 4, which will finish on the 12.4km-long climb of Sierra de la Alfaguara.
“We are having a great start to the Vuelta a Espana, I feel good and I’m now curious to see how my legs will respond in the high mountains.”
UAE Team Emirates tackled the second road stage of this year’s Vuelta a Espana with a solid performance that saw the team’s young Italian sprinter, Simone Consonni, contest a fast sprint finish after nearly five hours of racing.
The 23-year-old Italian finished fifth, with Quick-Step Floors rider Elia Viviani triumphant.
Team leader Fabio Aru continued to build on his form and crossed the line just behind the sprinters to move into 18th position in the GC standings.
The 178.2km route, which ran from the coastal town of Mijas to Alhaurin de la Torre was always going to favour the sprinters, despite featuring one category one and one category two climb over the Puerto del Madrono and Puerto Viento respectively.
The pace was high throughout the day and the early breakaway riders were only given a short leash before they were finally reeled back in over the last 10kms of the race, allowing the sprinters in the pack to contest the podium.
Consonni got himself into a great position during the ‘flame rouge’ and battled hard over the final 200m – against a world class field of fast men –to take a well-earned fifth spot behind Italian icon Viviani who won the stage in 4:48:12”.
Commenting on his top five finish, Consonni said: “I’m pretty satisfied, especially because I’ve had some tough days to contend with in these early stages.
“I did my best to avoid being dropped on the climbs today and had great support from my teammates. I succeeded in being in the peloton for the sprint and in achieving a fifth place, which is a good result for me as it’s my first sprint in a Grand Tour.”
Further back in the peloton, UAE Team Emirates’ domestiques worked tirelessly to protect their GC leader Aru who, despite carrying light abrasions to his right leg from the previous day’s crash, kept himself in the mix during the long flat run in to the finish to gain a respectable position on day three of La Vuelta.
Stage 4 is another hilly day for the peloton and features the second of nine summit finishes. The route leaves the Costa del Sol from Velez-Malaga and runs for 162km to Sierra de la Alfaguara via an inland course that includes two category one climbs; the first over the Alta de la Cabra Montes and the second up the Puerto del Alfacar to the finish line, which sits 1,440m above sea level.
Quick-Step Floors rider Viviani displayed his sprinting prowess at Alhaurin de la Torre to claim his first La Vuelta stage win and his 16th of the season.
Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski retained the leader’s red jersey and holds a 14-second lead over Spain’s stage two winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), with Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman third in the general classification.
An early breakaway led by Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Pierre Rolland (Education First-Drapac) and Hector Saez (Euskadi-Murias) opened up a four minute and eight seconds lead over the peloton after 34 kilometres.
But Viviani’s Quick-Step Floors team drove the main bunch and with 93km to go the gap was cut to two minutes.
Victor Campenaerts and Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal), Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) attacked the leading pack with 45km to go and bridged the gap further.
Jordi Simon (Burgos-BH) was unsuccessful with a couple of attacks and after Campenaerts crashed 23km from the finish, Postlberger hit the front on his own.
Austrian Postlberger held a 25 second lead with 15km to go, but was caught by the peloton with 6km left and Viviani emerged strongest in the dash for the line.