Fernando Gaviria on his special relationship with the Giro d'Italia and battling Elia Viviani

Matt Jones - Editor 20:42 08/05/2019
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He has only appeared at one previous edition in his fledgling career, but Fernando Gaviria will always enjoy a special connection with the Giro d’Italia.

The 24-year-old Colombian came of age at the 2017 La Corsa Rosa. On his Grand Tour debut the Etixx-Quick-Step (now Deceuninck-Quick-Step) protégé finished 129th overall but shot to prominence with four stage wins – more than any other rider.

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, who was crowned GC (General Classification) champion, was the only other cyclist to win more than one, and he only claimed two victories.

Gaviria, then 22, triumphed on Stage 3 from Tortoli to Cagliari in a sprint finish, taking the lead of the GC, briefly, in the process. He relinquished the coveted Maglia Rosa the next day to Quick-Step team-mate Bob Jungels but went on to taste triumph three more times.

Stage 5 belonged to the emerging young South American too while he rode to back-to-back successes on Stages 12 and 13 – leaving the likes of German sprint king Andre Greipel in his wake and writing himself into the history books as the first Colombian to win four stages at a single Giro. It landed him the re-introduced Maglia Ciclamino jersey, awarded to the points classification champion.

Initial success morphed into the real possibility that Gaviria can achieve status as a sprinting great by the time his career is finished, when he backed up his Giro performances with success at the 2018 Tour de France.

The La Ceja native conquered the opening stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’lle to Fontenay-le-Comte to don the famous yellow jersey, following it with victory on Stage 4.

This year, and now with UAE Team Emirates, Gaviria intends to tackle both races. But the sprint sensation admits the Giro – which catapulted him onto cycling’s top table – will always hold a certain extra significance.

“I feel a special relationship with the Giro,” he told Sport360 at the team’s base on Wednesday, with four days to go until the 2019 edition – and 102nd overall.

“My career took its international dimension in the Giro d’Italia 2017 thanks to the points classification jersey and the four stage victories. They lifted me into the elite sprinters’ group.”

Despite a strong beginning to life at the Grand Tour level, Gaviria has some way to go to oust Mario Cipollini for the most Giro stage wins. The Lion King roared to 42 individual wins over 15 years, as well as three points titles.

But he admits narrowing the gap to the greats – current rider Mark Cavendish lays claim to 15 Giro stage wins – is something the Colombian ace aspires to.

“You mentioned very strong sprinters (like Greipel and Marcel Kittel), they made history in the sprints of the Grand Tours, of course I’d like to reach their amount of victories in these races,” he added.

“This would mean that I managed to be very competitive for many years and in every Grand Tour I participate in.”

Even though he’ll return to Le Tour later in the year, the UAE’s captain for the Giro is focused only on the next gruelling three weeks ahead – Grand Tours consist of 21 race days, with two rest days following at the end of the first and second weeks.

“I will be at the Tour de France and I will do my best to compete in the sprints. But, before, there’s the Giro d’Italia and now I’m focused on it,” said the steely-eyed Gaviria, his fiery South American passion easily detectable.

“A season of a top rider is made of some big races, not only of one big appointment.

“This year, the main race for me would have been the Tour de France, the Giro was an option.

“But with Fabio Aru out of the competition (the Italian icon is out injured until the summer) the team shifted attention from the General Classification to stages and I was happy to confirm my participation in the Giro with the goal of going for stages.

“So, I consider the Giro an important race, as the Tour de France will also be.”

Though he claimed the most stage wins on debut two years ago, Grand Tours are notoriously difficult – pretty much impossible – for sprinters to win. They rarely compete or even stay the course when the races enter the treacherous mountainous stages – Gaviria himself failed to finish the Tour last year.

He and other major sprinters like Greipel and Dylan Groenewegen were unable to finish Stage 11, the third major hilly Alps stage within the time limit, and were eliminated.

Gaviria is looking forward to going head to head with former Quick-Step team-mate Elia Viviani (r).

Gaviria is looking forward to going head to head with former Quick-Step team-mate Elia Viviani (r).

Instead, Gaviria will look to make his impact early, on the opening Individual Time Trial (ITT) or following four flat stages before the first climb occurs on Stage 6 from Cassino to San Giovanni Rotondo.

And Gaviria knows one-time Quick-Step team-mate Elia Viviani will be the man to beat in the sprints come Saturday.

“The main one will be Elia Viviani. I know him very well, having raced in the same team in the past and having raced on track against him,” Gaviria said of the Italian road race champion and winner of last year’s points jersey.

“He’ll be for sure very, very competitive. I add also in the list Pascal Ackermann, Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Demare, Giacomo Nizzolo: they all seem to be in  good condition.

“My goal will be to contend the victories in those stages which finish in sprints. Being a sprinter, I’ll try to make the most of the opportunities that the stages will offer to the fast riders.

“The sprinters will have a good number of opportunities during the first part of the Giro. It’s important to consider that, as often happens in the Giro, there will be no straightforward stages. The sprinters and their teams will always have to fight for the sprint finish.

“It will be very difficult to fight for the points classification, because the second part of the Giro will be almost exclusively for the climbers. I’ll try to make the most of the opportunities to compete in sprints for the top result.”

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