Gaviria relishing leadership role for Giro d'Italia

Colombian sprinter steps up in previous GC hopeful Aru's absence

UAE Team Emirates' Fernando Gaviria says that he's looking forward to leading his team at the upcoming Giro d'Italia, where the Colombian sprinter will have strong support in his efforts to take stage wins in the absence of an overall contender for the team.

Gaviria starts what is only his third Grand Tour at the Giro this coming weekend, having last ridden the Italian race in 2017, when he won four stages, the points classification and spent a day in the pink leader's jersey. Last year, he rode the Tour de France, where he won the opening stage and took the race's first yellow jersey, and went on to win a second stage three days later.

"Winning the points classification jersey and the four stage victories in 2017 lifted me into the elite sprinters' group," Gaviria said on his team's website of his 2017 Giro experience. "Those were beautiful and very important moments for me, and the thought of having the chance to relive them is exciting."

However, his hopes of once again taking home the ciclamino points jersey are tempered by the fact that there are relatively few sprint opportunities in the second half of this year's race.

"In the first half of the Giro, the stages will offer sprinters a good number of opportunities," he said. "As usual, there will be no straightforward stages, so even we sprinters, and our teams, will always have to fight for the sprint finish.

"The goal is to make the most of the opportunities to compete in sprints," Gaviria continued. "It'll be very difficult to fight for the points classification, because the second part of the Giro will be almost exclusively for the climbers."

The 24-year-old's leadership role comes about as a result of the absence of 2015 Giro runner-up Fabio Aru, who's still recovering from an iliac artery operation, but may be back in action in time for the Tour de France.

"Given that Fabio Aru couldn't race, the team shifted the focus from the general classification to stages. This meant that the directors had the opportunity to add a nice group dedicated to the sprints to the group it already had hunting stages," explained Gaviria.

UAE Team Emirates' full squad will be confirmed in the coming days, but is expected to include Italian Simone Consonni and Gaviria's compatriot Sebastian Molano, who stepped up at the Tour Colombia 2.1 in February when Gaviria was forced to quit the race through illness, and ended up winning a stage.

Both riders would feature in what is likely to be an extremely strong lead-out train, which will nevertheless have its work cut out in the sprints against Gaviria's former teammate Elia Viviani and the Italian's Deceuninck-QuickStep squad.

UAE Team Emirates for the Giro d'Italia: Tom Bohli, Simone Consonni, Valerio Conti, Fernando Gaviria, Marco Marcato, Juan Sebastian Molano, Jan Polanc, Diego Ulissi

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