Fernando Gaviria enjoyed a big year in 2018. Already billed as one of the great prospects for cycling’s future, the 23-year-old Colombian delivered further notice of his immense promise with a stunning start to the Tour de France – winning two stages.
It had followed on from a stellar 2017 during which he also shone on the Grand Tour stage – claiming four victories at the Giro d’Italia as well as the overall points title.
The future looked bright. Gaviria was seemingly on the path to greatness. Winning, and winning big. On one of professional cycling’s biggest teams – Quick-Step Floors – who showed ultimate faith in his potential when they were happy to jettison German giant Marcel Kittel to Team Katusha-Alpecin.
Kittel, with 14 individual stage wins at the Tour de France, is the sixth most successful rider at an event considered the jewel of cycling’s crown. His 19 stage wins at Grand Tours in total puts him 13th overall among wins at Le Tour, the Giro and Vuelta a Espana.
It seemed like a tectonic shift – the young gun hired as the veteran champion was ran out of town.
And then Gaviria dropped a bombshell at season’s end by announcing his departure from the Belgium behemoths, saying his time with them had “run its course” as he sensationally signed with UAE Team Emirates.
Finances are said to have played their part, Patrick Lefevere secured Deceuninck as the team’s new sponsor last summer, but the manager also appeared resigned to losing his rising talent to the overtures of a lucrative contract from the UAE.
Here, the lure of being the team’s lead sprinter was too great. Despite Kittel’s departure, Gaviria was still playing second fiddle to Italy icon Elia Viviani, who enjoyed a stunning debut with Quick-Step.
Even with Norwegian veteran Alexander Kristoff still around, Gaviria will enjoy the unrivalled status as sprint leader status this season.
“I lived beautiful cycling seasons in my previous team and I became the rider I am now thanks to them. But I felt it was time for a change and UAE Team Emirates was the best solution for me,” Gaviria told Sport360 ahead of his first foray competitively on the ‘home’ soil of the Emirates for the UAE Tour which gets under way next week.
“I really liked the project of the team. I feel it was the best option for me for giving an interesting future to my career.
“There’s a very interesting project behind the team; trying to become one of the top teams in the world and also to inspire people in the UAE, especially kids, to cycle and so to live a healthy lifestyle. This gives extra motivation to all the members of the team.”
To be fair, it’s not like Gaviria’s future looks any less shinier now, despite departing Deceuninc. UAE Team Emirates have made tentative progress in their first two years but whispers started in the off-season with Gaviria’s acquisition that a leap towards the elite could be made in 2019.
The 24-year-old’s arrival was accompanied by the signings of compatriot Sergio Henao, the 2017 Paris-Nice champion, from Team Sky; as well as exciting Portuguese twins Ivo and Rui Oliveira, and promising Belgian rider Jasper Philipsen and Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.
They join an already star-studded squad including 2015 Vuelta champion Fabio Aru and 2018 Tour de France stage winners Kristoff and Dan Martin.
And results are already looking up. Four wins have been achieved at the Tour Down Under, Vuelta a San Juan and Tour Colombia in the embryonic stages of the season.
Gaviria too has also shown signs of continuing his progress with victory on his debut in UAE colours, winning the opening stage at the Vuelta a San Juan, as well as another on Stage 4 and three more top-10 finishes.
He began brightly in his own backyard at the Tour Colombia too, claiming fifth place on the opening stage time trial, although he was forced to abandon prior to Stage 3, suffering with a respiratory infection.
Despite the setback, he’s enjoying his new environment and looking forward to continuing his rise in 2019.
“Very well, everybody in the team was welcoming and I perceive a positive mood,” he said when asked how he’s settling in to his new surroundings.
“I will try to be as competitive as possible in all the races I take part in. Some main appointments will be the UAE Tour, the Belgian classics and the Tour de France.
“Winning a stage at the Tour de France is something every cyclist dreams of, so I will be very happy if I have the opportunity to compete again for stage victories. Last year I wore the yellow jersey, it was amazing, but this is a very difficult goal.”
Team chiefs previously spoke of how the belated success of 2018 – Martin and Kristoff’s stage wins in France – masked more worrying deficiencies that simply have to be made up this year if UAE Team Emirates are going to achieve their goal of becoming one of the best in the business.
Business manager Mauro Gianetti did not pull any punches when he served praise upon Kristoff and Martin at a team training camp in the Emirates towards the end of last year alongside a demand for improvement after less than impressive results during the first part of the season.
But two wins in Argentina for Gaviria, as well as for Philipsen on Stage 5 in Australia and Juan Sebastian Molano on Stage 3 in Colombia, show definite progression.
“Racing in a new team and with new team-mates is always a step which requires adaptation, but we as UAE Team Emirates started very well and we showed to be already skillful enough for achieving the goals we set,” added Gaviria.
“This is very good and it helps me and my team to approach the next appointments with high morale.”
Cyclists always talk about needing to condition themselves ahead of their main season objectives and how you’re unlikely to see them at their best at the start of the year if their main aim is the Tour de France or the spring classics. So how encouraged is Gaviria with his start to 2019?
“For a rider, the victory is always important and especially for a sprinter it is fundamental to receive winning feedback from as many sprints he takes part in as possible,” he added.
“It will be an important year for me, so I’m happy I already won, I always did it in my past seasons as a pro and it was great to do it again.”
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