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Race leader heading towards the final stage of the Dubai Tour on Saturday, Elia Viviani is in a commanding position. Winner of stage two of the race and leader since the end of the next stage, he rode well on the uphill ramp which concluded day four and now looks poised for victory.
He will begin the final day two seconds clear of Magnus Cort (Astana) and a further two seconds up on stage four victor Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida). If he wins, it will be one of the most important successes of his career, marking his first stage race victory since the smaller Tour of Elk Grove in 2013.
But, perhaps more importantly, his display in the race underlines both his strong form and also the way that he and the QuickStep Floors team has gelled since he moved there over the winter.
Viviani was previously with Team Sky, racing there between the start of 2015 and the end of 2017. He picked up some important successes there, including a stage in the Giro d’Italia, but missed out on a dedicated sprint train in the biggest stage races.
His move to QuickStep Floors, will, he believes, make victory more likely.
“They are the two biggest teams in the world,” he said, when asked by CyclingTips what his pre-season transfer would mean for his career. “Team Sky is really focussed in the GC [general classification]. I am the leader when we went to races like this one, but I couldn’t follow my ambition in the Grand Tours, to win stages in a Grand Tour.
“I had this chance to move to QuickStep and then I see straight away the difference. The team is really all around me when I go to the race, and that makes the difference for my results.”
QuickStep is one of the most powerful squads in the sport, and the riders are masters at leadouts, in crosswinds and in the Classics. Viviani has both experience and horsepower at his disposal now, and this should see him put into the right position in sprints much more often.
“I spent three really beautiful years at Team Sky, and now I want to enjoy my time in QuickStep,” he said, speaking minutes after receiving a new leader’s jersey at the Dubai Tour. “I really improved also in the last three years. I did a good step up already, you saw me in the last part of the season. Now I am really happy to be part of the QuickStep team.”
His reference to the end of 2017 is in relation to the seven wins he clocked up after July’s Tour of the Austria. This run of success did much for his self-belief and now, with a dedicated sprint team at his disposal, he believes he can make real progress.
Thus far he hasn’t reached the level of riders such as Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel. However, he’s beaten both in this race, and Cavendish himself admitted that – for now at least – Viviani is faster in long sprints. It’s clear there is respect there, and also a recognition of how fast the Italian is.
So, does Viviani believe that being with QuickStep Floors can help him step up a level and get closer to the sort of successes Cavendish and Kittel achieve in the three week races?
“Yes, for sure…I want to make this step up,” he said. “I think it is a good team…the mood on this team is the main thing for the Grand Tour. This year I go to the Giro and I want to do definitely make this step up in those Grand Tours.
“I have won just one stage in the Giro thus far. I have gone close with a lot of second places in the Vuelta, a lot of second places in the Giro. So I want to go to the Giro this year with the best condition ever and try to win the most stages I can.”
Sharing the limelight
Viviani turned 29 years of age this week and is approaching his prime. An Olympic champion on the track and a successful sprinter on the road, he appears to be gaining momentum. That impression had been further enhanced by his stage win at the Santos Tour Down Under and his success in the Dubai Tour.
Making a breakthrough at the Giro would confirm that progress but, even so, it’s uncertain if he would do the Tour.
The QuickStep Floors team also includes the Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria, and it is expected that he will make his Tour de France debut this season and be the team’s protected fastman there.
That’s likely fine for Viviani: he can chase success in the Giro, and potentially also in the Vuelta. He’ll get his chance in countless other races too. QuickStep Floors is an ambitious team which prides itself on the number of victories it achieves each year, and he will be seen by the management as a big asset.
In that regard, landing overall victory in the Dubai Tour is a big objective for the squad. He will have complete support on the final stage and, all going to plan, will seal the win.
“I have a really strong team to control the race tomorrow,” he said on Friday afternoon. “I’ll then do the best sprint I can. I think the main goal will be to win the sprint tomorrow. If I win the sprint tomorrow, it will be a very nice finish to this Dubai Tour.”
And, if he takes the biggest stage race GC result of his life, it will perhaps also be the start of a bigger, brighter phase of his career.
Time will tell if he can indeed step up to the level of Cavendish or Kittel in the three week races. But, with QuickStep Floors, he is in the right place to do exactly that.