After a couple of false starts in Sardinia, Fernando Gaviria is hitting his stride on this Giro d'Italia. A winner in Cagliari after a masterclass in echelon riding from his Quick-Step Floors team, the Colombian proceeded to beat a full complement of sprinters in Messina on stage 5 to claim his second victory of the race. He will reach the mainland on Thursday in the maglia ciclamino of points classification leader.
Gavira's ability to win on a variety of finales marks him out as a logical favourite to carry the tunic all the way to the finish in Milan, but he was coy about the prospect when he sat down to speak with the press in Messina's Palazzo Zenca on Wednesday afternoon.
"Yes, I'd like to win the classification, but there's a lot of the Giro still to come and a lot of hard stages still to go," Gaviria said. "I'll just have to see how I'm going, day by day."
Given the lack of opportunities for the fast men in the Giro d'Italia's demanding final week, Gaviria's words read at first glance like those of a man with a mind to join the expected mass exodus of sprinters from Tortona on stage 13. He quickly dispelled any such suspicions, however, insisting that completing his maiden Grand Tour would be an important part of his development as a rider.
With a brace of world titles on the track and a Paris-Tours victory already on his palmares, it is easy to forget that Gaviria is still only 22 years of age. This Giro, it seems, is mainly about applying the final brushstrokes to the portrait of the champion as a young man.
"I think getting to Milan will turn Fernando the boy into Fernando the man," Gaviria said, neither boastfully nor bashfully. "It will be important for my career. If I make it to the finish of that time trial in Milan, I'll draw a lot of satisfaction from knowing that I've completed a Grand Tour, but I'll face a lot of tough days before then."
Gaviria has developed into a rather more assured performer in press conferences since he emerged to defeat Mark Cavendish in Villa Mercedes on the opening leg of the 2015 Tour de San Luis as a raw 19-year-old, but he retains much of the same youthful insouciance. Asked if any of the forthcoming stages, including Thursday's short but sharp uphill finish in Terme Luigiane, were to his liking, Gaviria shrugged apologetically. Día tras día.
"I don't know," Gaviria said. "I don't know what the stages are like. Every day, I take out the road book and have a look at the profile day by day, and I see whether I have a chance of having a go for the win or not."
The short finishing circuit on Wednesday's stage gave Gaviria a closer look at the Via Garibaldi ahead of the sprint, and he executed his effort perfectly, latching onto the wheel of Bora-Hansgrohe's Sam Bennett and then coming past the Irishman in the final 200 metres to claim the win ahead of Jakub Mareczko (Wilier-Triestina). Gaviria demurred, however, when he was invited to give his own blow-by-blow account of those final 500 metres. The forensic powers of recall of his former teammate Cavendish, it seems, are not universal among the sprinting fraternity.
"I think it's complicated to explain the finish because in the final kilometre, all sprinters are racing by instinct," Gaviria said. "You go left or right to follow wheels, but it's hard to remember exactly what you did. I don't know, I just trusted my instincts."
When asked to name his toughest opponent on this Giro – Bennett, André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) or perhaps Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) – Gaviria was circumspect. "It's hard to say," he offered. A follow-up question followed a more philosophical line: if Gaviria simply follows his instincts, a reporter wondered, then perhaps he is his own most difficult opponent.
It was the kind of question that could invite a long answer or a short one. Gaviria weighed up the options and plumped for the latter. There was a ferry to catch to Calabria, after all. "Sì," he said simply.