Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has revealed he will not celebrate sprint victories when he beats his former QuickStep teammates as a sign of respect, but he intends “to win as much as possible” in 2019, with Milan-San Remo a first major target for the spring before he goes on to finally make his debut in the cobbled Classics of northern Europe. He is also due to return to the Tour de France after two stage victories and a day in the yellow jersey in 2018, with the world road race championships in Yorkshire a final goal of the season.
Gaviria has already won two stages at the Vuelta a San Juan, with his new UAE Team Emirates teammates quickly forming an effective and successful lead out train and delivering him to the finish. Gaviria has a lot of respect and admiration for his former teammates on Decenuninck-QuickStep, but he does not seem to regret making the move to UAE Team Emirates and signing an economically better three-year contract.
"It’s been a big change in my life, it's not easy to change teams. I was at QuickStep for three years and the riders were my friends too, but we struck a good deal and everyone was happy. I feel I’m at the centre of this new project,” Gaviria pointed out during an interview with the media present at the Vuelta a San Juan, including Cyclingnews.
“At UAE Team Emirates we trained well together in December and January, and I trained well in Colombia too. I felt better and better but was also relaxed about things. It was difficult in this first race because I’m with new guys and there’s a new lead out. But after the first day and the first win, everything gelled and everyone was happy. It made me realise I’d made a good decision to start with a new team.”
Gaviria admits he learnt a lot, especially about sprinting, while at QuickStep, with veteran Argentinean leadout man Max Richeze his mentor. Richeze was under contract and so unable to also make the move to UAE Team Emirates, but Gaviria will show his respect and gratitude by not throwing up his arms after a sprint win.
“I didn’t celebrate here in San Juan and won’t celebrate as a sign of respect towards my former teammates, Max (Richeze), Iljo (Keisse), Alvaro (Hodeg) and Julian (Alaphilippe),” Gaviria made clear.
“They’re like family to me, they’re my friends. When I’m racing against Max, I’ll never put my arms up to celebrate. It’s a bit like a footballer who doesn’t celebrate scoring a goal when they play against a team they just left.”
A bike throw wins stage 4 in San Juan for Gaviria ahead of Sagan (Bettini Photo)
Respect for his former QuickStep teammates
Gaviria preferred to always speak in Spanish while at QuickStep but seemed happy to try to speak in English now, only switching to his native tongue to express a difficult concept. He speaks Italian with the young Italian riders with him in San Juan, but he knows that UAE Team Emirates is now an English-first team after it changed its medical and coaching staff over the winter.
Gaviria is still only 24, but he appears to have matured significantly after the success of 2018 and his team transfer.
“This year I'm more relaxed, even on social media. I think I’m able enjoy things more,” he conceded.
“Some years things have been more difficult because there has been a lot of big changes in my life. Three years ago nobody knew who I was, then suddenly I was at the centre of attention in every race. It was difficult, but now I understand it’s my job and I enjoy it more. Of course I know I have even more responsibility with this team. At QuickStep they tried to win every race, and now it’s the same here.”
Gaviria will share sprinting responsibilities at UAE Team Emirates with Alexander Kristoff, but he appears to be the team’s number one sprinter after his high-profile move to the team. Kristoff vented his frustration about Gaviria’s arrival in November, suggesting he will be an expensive leadout man if he is forced to simply sacrifice his chances and wok for his new teammate in the Classics and Tour de France sprints.
Gaviria cleverly stayed on message about his relationship with the Norwegian, perhaps trusting that his sprinting speed will earn him the role of top dog.
“We spoke in December, everything is okay with him,” Gaviria said.
“If it’s a normal sprint, we’ll go with the best rider. If I don't have good legs, I'll ride for him, and if it’s the other way around, he’ll work for me. We are not children, we’re all professionals. We represent the UAE. We’ll go to the UAE Tour and see what happens there.”
Max Richeze congratulates Fernando Gaviria after Gaviria won stage 1 in San Juan (Bettini Photo)
A full Classics campaign
Gaviria will ride the Tour Colombia 2.1 race at home in mid-February and then ride the UAE Tour – the home of his new sponsors. He will then head to Italy for Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, before a full Classics campaign in Belgium plus Paris-Roubaix. Adding the Ardennes is perhaps for another year.
“The UAE Tour is a big race for us. It's where our sponsors are and so all the money [team funding - ed.] is from there. It’s a really big goal for us. It's a new race for me, I've never been there and I’m happy to go there this year,” Gaviria explained.
“Last year I would have ridden the Classics, but I broke my finger. On paper, I’ll ride all the Classics this year up until Paris-Roubaix, but we'll see during the season. You never know what can happen.”
Gaviria emerged as a world-class sprinter at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina in 2015 and joined QuickStep at the end of the season. He looked set to fight for victory in the 2016 Milan-San Remo, only to touch wheels with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and lose any chance in the sprint.
La Primavera remains an elusive objective but is still high up on Gaviria’s wish list.
“For sure. Milan-San Remo is the first big Classic of the season and I'll try to win it. I don't ride in San Remo just for fun. I’ll be working to be at my best on the day from now till then,” he made clear.
“Nibali won it last year, but it’s normally for the sprinters, just like Gent-Wevelgem. You never know what will happen in the finale of Milan-San Remo. If I can follow the attacks, I will. If I can't, I try to just follow the group and wait for the sprint.”
Gaviria and Gianluca Brambilla cross the 2016 Milan-San Remo line after Gaviria crashed (Getty Images)
And can he win one of the Cobbled Classics at the first attempt? In the past, crashes and injuries have always forced him to miss a full Cobbled campaign.
“We’ll see what will happen. I can only say I’ll go for a win, but you don't know what will happen,” he admitted, referring to his block of Belgian racing in April.
“It's my first time. In San Remo, I went well in my first try at Milan-San Remo. I handled the long distance, but then with 300m to go I crashed. That’s racing, so well see what happens on the day.”
UAE Team Emirates team manager Joxean Matxin discovered Gaviria early in his career and now considers him the best sprinter in the world. Gaviria is more modest about if he will develop into one of the best Classics riders of his generation, but he is hungry for sprint success.
“Now there are so many riders who are fast, it's difficult to say,” Gaviria said sportingly. “There’s (Caleb) Ewan, Elia (Viviani), Alvaro (Hodeg). It's difficult to say who's the best, because every sprint is different because of a crash or a touch. It's difficult to say he is the best.
“We’ll see how I develop over the years, I could become a Classics contender. Now I’m fast, but perhaps I’ll slow down over the years or perhaps even get faster,” he said jokingly before turning serious about his innate ambition.
“It’s simple, I just want to win,” he concluded.