Elia Viviani has broken his contract with Team Sky to join Quick-Step Floors. The Italian, who was left out of the British team's squad for this year's Giro d'Italia, had previously played down talk of a move before the end of his contract in 2018, but on Wednesday it was announced he had put pen to paper on a two-year deal with Patrick Lefevere's team.
Viviani's transfer was announced barely two hours after it was confirmed that Marcel Kittel will leave Quick-Step for Katusha-Alpecin from 2018, paving the way for another sprinter alongside rising star Fernando Gaviria.
Viviani joined Sky from Cannondale at the end of 2015, winning a stage of that year's Giro, and he extended his contract by two years last October after a track-focused season that saw him win gold in the omnium at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The 100th edition of the Giro this year was understood to be a major goal but in the end there was no space for Viviani on a line-up focused squarely on the general classification.
There was soon talk of Viviani being on the market, with Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reporting that he would move to UAE Team Emirates and even suggesting he could make the switch before the end of the season. The 28-year-old, however, denied any talk of a move when asked by Cyclingnews at the end of July if he was 100 per cent certain of remaining with Sky.
"Quick-Step Floors is the best choice I could make," Viviani said in a statement on Wednesday. "When Patrick Lefevere came with this offer, I just couldn't say no to one of the biggest teams in the world. I am honoured to join a squad with such a fantastic pedigree, one that has excelled in the art of sprinting over time. I couldn't be happier about this transfer, so that's why I want to thank Patrick and the entire team for this chance and their trust.
"I also want to thank Team Sky for the three years spent together and the great memories, but now the time has come to take on a new challenge. This is the right step in my career, because I'm confident it can help me progress. I am 28 now and I really want to find out next season what I can do in an outfit which gives me opportunities. I'm also excited about being on the same team with Fernando Gaviria, one of the fastest riders in the peloton, who I got to know from the events we raced together as opponents in the past two seasons."
Viviani has won over 40 races so far in his career, the crowning glory being the Giro stage win, and he is also an Olympic champion after winning gold in the omnium last year. 2015 was his most successful season, while the Olympic focus meant he was less prolific on the road last year, and this year, despite the lack of Grand Tour racing, he has notched up four victories, including a win at the Tour de Romandie.
"We have followed Elia's career for a long time and now we are happy to welcome him to the team," said Lefevere. "He is a proven winner, a rider who has an impressive palmares and an equally impressive set of skills, and I'm convinced he will fit perfectly in our team with his mentality and winning attitude."
The Belgian manager has had to think long and hard about his roster for 2018 and beyond, with question marks over sponsorship and budget. He signed Kittel on the cheap after the German's annus horribilis in 2015, but he would now command a much higher salary after winning five stages of this year's Tour de France. With Gaviria making a blistering start to his Grand Tour debut this year, collecting four stage wins at the Giro d'Italia, Lefevere, who has invested in his young talent so far during this transfer window, can back the Colombian as his primary sprinter and look back on a nice return on his investment in Kittel.
Viviani will almost certainly be the team's sprinter for next year's Giro d'Italia, with Gaviria expected to head to the Tour de France for the first time.
"After Fernando Gaviria won four stages at the Giro, he will of course also want to be at the start of the Tour," said Kittel, explaining that Quick-Step management "could not give me a definite answer" about riding the Tour.
The announcement of Viviani's signing was accompanied by confirmation of a new two-year contract for lead-out man Fabio Sabatini, compatriot and former teammate of Viviani.
The 32-year-old, who has helped Kittel to eight Grand Tour stage wins over the last two seasons, had been expected to follow the German in the event of a transfer. However, he has decided to stay with Quick-Step to work for Viviani, while Gaviria's preferred lead-out man, Max Richeze, also extended his stay earlier this month.
"I am happy Elia joined the team, it will be really great to work together with him again," said Sabatini. "When Patrick talked with me and explained this new project, I was enthusiastic. Both Patrick and the team showed how much they believe in me, so it was only natural to extend my contract and continue helping this great squad."