Elia Viviani may feel he still has more to do to be considered one of the best sprinters in cycling, but his commanding performance to sweep away his rivals and claim the Dubai Tour crown undoubtedly strengthened his case.
After entering the final stage with a minuscule two-second lead in the general classification, the Italian signed off in style and left nothing to chance by winning the final day to seal the Circle of Stars trophy.
While previous winners Marcel Kittlel – previously the two-time reigning champion – and Mark Cavendish – victorious in 2015 – failed to compete for the podium, Viviani was at his best to keep a tight hold of the leader’s blue jersey and also finish with the red jersey for the points classification.
The 29-year-old already had a Olympic gold medal to his name and the honour of being a European track champion, but his decision to join Quick-Step Floors from Team Sky ahead of the new season was a switch made out of an ambition to be at the top of his sport.
“When I signed with Quick-Step Floors, it was definitely a big step up. I felt after the last part of the season last year, I really believed I can do this step up into the road race. I want to become one of the best sprinters in the world and this is the best team to be on to try that,” Viviani said.
“Classics are the main goal but winning sprints is my job and with this team it’s much easier than with all the other teams.
“This start of the season is a good way for me to step up into being one of the best in the world and maybe one of the best Italian riders.”
As dominant as he was among a strong field of riders in Dubai, Viviani believes he still has more to accomplish to truly have his name mentioned among the premier sprinters.
“I really want to win more than I win until now,” he said. “I’m not a poor sprinter, but I want to really want to be a sprinter who can win Classics. With this team, I really want to take the best result I can also in the Grand Tour. The main goal now is to win Classics, but go to the Grand Tour with a strong team to take however many stages I can win in the Giro, Vuelta and Tour.
“But yeah, I think I need to win more bigger races to feel like a really big champion in cycling.”
While the final stage was icing on the cake in a week which also featured a victory on his birthday (stage two), Viviani’s main concern on Saturday was fending off Magnus Cort Nielsen, who was just two seconds behind in the standings.
A chaotic finish, however, spurred by a late crash on the final corner that took out Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and slowed down others, opened the door for Viviani to push for the victory.
Quick-Step Floors’ Fabio Sabatini did well to guide his team-mate through the mess, with their inside position on the turn keeping them away from the wreckage, and set up a bunch sprint finish in which Viviani turned on the jets in the straight to edge Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) and Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) at the line.
“There was a lot of thinking in my head in the last 200 metres because I checked if anyone in the front four guys was involved with the GC. If I had Cort Nielsen on the wheel, I was pretty worried to go down with a long sprint because he could pick me at the line and that is not a good finish,” Viviani said.
“But when I see these four guys in front of me and 100m to go, I say “okay, I try everything and maybe I finish fifth, but I win the GC’. With 50m to go, I went double speed and could also win the stage so it was a good feeling.”
Having begun his season with three stage wins (one at Santos Tour Down Under) and a title, Viviani is on his way to becoming one of the top sprinters in the world – if he isn’t already.
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) won the fifth edition of the Dubai Tour on Saturday, crossing the finish line first in the Dubai City Walk in a bunch sprint, after 132km of racing.
On the podium he received the Circle of Stars, the winner’s trophy, from H.H. Sheikh Mansoor Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Second classified was the Dane Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana Pro Team), with Italian Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) third placed on General Classification.
1 – Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
The Blue Jersey, sponsored by the Commercial Bank of Dubai (General individual classification by time) – Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
The Red Jersey, sponsored by Emirates (General individual classification by points) – Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
The White Jersey, sponsored by RTA – Roads and Transport Authority (Best Young Rider born after 1 January 1993) – Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana Pro Team)
The UAE Flag Jersey, sponsored by DHA – Dubai Health Authority (Intermediate Sprint Jersey Classification) – Quentin Valognes (Team Novo Nordisk)
1 – Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) 132km in 3h05’28”, average speed 42.703km/h
2 – Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) s.t.
3 – Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) s.t.
One stage remains before the fifth edition of the Dubai Tour comes to an end, and yet we’ve already been treated to a thrilling event that has featured a little bit of everything.
Stage four from Skydive Dubai to Hatta Dam, a unique course on the Tour, fittingly saw a nail-biting finish as American Brandon McNulty was caught in the final metres before Sonny Colbrelli claimed the win.
Here are three takeaways and observations from the day:
A NEW KING WILL BE CROWNED
No offence to Marcel Kittel, but the German sprint star’s domination in the past two editions sapped some of the excitement and unpredictability from the Tour.
It can be enjoyable to watch an athlete fire on all cylinders and be on top of their game, but the drama of the Tour being wide open on the final day is simply more entertaining.
Sure, Elia Viviani will be tough to beat as he enters the sprint-friendly last stage in the blue jersey, but with the way Magnus Cort Nielsen and Sonny Colbrelli have consistently performed – they trail Viviani by two and four seconds, respectively – the general classification title isn’t a given.
Regardless of which of the three pull it off, it will be good to have a fresh face holding up the Circle of Stars trophy, with Kittel and Mark Cavendish – winner of the 2015 edition – both out of the running.
NO HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
Stage wins have eluded the local side as Alexander Kristoff, despite being in the mix on each of the four days, has come up just short with finishes of fourth, seventh, seventh and fourth.
As the European champion searches for his first win with his new outfit, so too are UAE Team Emirates on the year, having failed to register a victory since the turn of the calendar.
Expectations have rightly been raised, but it would be harsh to say the Tour is a failure for them if they don’t notch at least one stage win. Mirza has shown plenty of promise, while Kristoff has looked as advertised.
“My team mates were fantastic leading me to the approach of #HattaDam, my legs were fairly good, but maybe the final few meters were too heavy for me”. Said @Kristoff87 after the stage 4 🇦🇪#DubaiTour .— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) February 9, 2018
BEAUTY OF HATTA
As unforgiving as it is, stage four is considered to be the favourite by many of the riders in the Tour.
And it’s obvious why. You just don’t see many finishes like the one at Hatta Dam in the world of cycling, with its steep ascent pushing the riders to their limits.
It’s uniqueness as a course is matched by its beauty as a location. If the riders have any breath left by the time they reach the top of the summit, it’s surely taken away by the breathtaking view of blue water and mountains.
And it’s that type of individuality that helps the Dubai Tour earn its place in the cycling calendar.