Fernando Gaviria won the opening stage at the Vuelta a San Juan, immediately shrugging off the pressure and expectation on him to win on his debut in UAE Team Emirates colours and quickly pushing aside any sense of regret about his move from QuickStep during the winter.
“I’m very happy, winning always makes me happy,” he said, wearing a UAE team cap with the visor turned up to show his new team sponsors.
“This win is extra special because I took a risk by changing teams for 2019. It was a tough decision, because Quick-Step is one of best teams in the world. But we live to take risks, and I think UAE want to get better year after year, and I’m here to win for them.”
Gaviria has won stages in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, but this early-season win in Argentina, where he first sprinted to victory in 2015, has a special meaning.
“I can’t compare it with the Giro and Tour wins, they’re at another level, they’re the ones that make you a big rider. But this one is very important to me because I changed teams and started all over again,” he explained.
“It’s my first race in the UAE Team Emirates colours, and it’s my first victory for them. Lets hope things carry on like this.”
The 24-year-old Colombian used his bike skills, speed and inside knowledge to win in Pocito.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had told him before he start that he was going to lead out Sam Bennett, and so Gaviria adjusted his sprint and lead out as a consequence. When Sagan kicked early, Gaviria was upfront and was able to hold off the late charge of the Irishman and Matteo Malucelli (Caja Rural) who bumped shoulders as they fought for the podium spots.
“At the roundabout with five kilometres to go I was relaxed because I felt good, and I knew my team was good too because I know how much they’ve worked this winter,” Gaviria explained.
“We’d spoken about staying relaxed in the finale. I thought QuickStep would start the sprint, but I looked at them and they didn’t move, so we accelerated and lead it out. When Sagan went, I knew he was not sprinting himself but leading out Bennett, because I’d spoken to him. I was ready for that. We did a good job, took control of the sprint and I won.”
In contrast to Gaviria's success for UAE, QuickStep were left empty handed, with Alvaro Hodeg finishing fifth. They no longer have Gaviria, and he has stolen some of their sprint expertise.
“I think I’ve brought the things I learnt at QuickStep to UAE,” he explained.
“I’ve learnt a lot from riders like Max Richeze and Iljo Keisse. They’re big, experienced riders. I have young guys to help me only at UAE. Only Roberto Ferrari is a veteran, the others are the same age and the same generation as me. But I think they’ve already learnt a lot and as they showed, they know how to lead me out.”