Elia Viviani didn’t put a pedal stroke out of place in Naples on Saturday afternoon but the young Italian had to yield to the law of the strongest at the end of stage one of the Giro d’Italia, as Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) prevailed in the sprint.
His Cannondale teammate Cameron Wurf spent much of a dog day afternoon off the front, allowing Viviani to sit in the wheels as QuickStep and Argos-Shimano went about the business of setting up the bunch finish. Then, on the final lap of the city centre circuit, Viviani was perfectly marshalled to the front, escaping the crash that split the peloton and ended the hopes of Mattia Gavazzi (Androni-Venezuela).
Viviani found himself well-positioned as the Arrivo banner drew closer on Via Carocciolo and the first maglia rosa of the Giro seemed almost to loom before him as he burst past Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge). But at the death, Cavendish nipped past to claim the glory, while Viviani must content himself with second place and the consolation prize of the white jersey of best young rider.
“In the team meeting this morning, I asked the ragazzi to bring me to the front early because I didn’t want to get bottled in and I think they did that for me perfectly,” Viviani said afterwards. “They did great work for me in the final kilometres and then it came down to a head-to-head against Cavendish, on a finish like that… I didn’t lose by much, but I lost. I just hope at least that I gave him a bit of a fright.”
In spite of the disappointment of missing out hitting the jackpot so early, Viviani was sanguine in defeat and generous in his praise of his conqueror. All things being equal, Viviani acknowledged, Cavendish is nigh on unbeatable in a finale like that in Naples.
“We know who he is, we know how many stages he’s won at the Tour and the Giro,” Viviani said. “I said it last week at the Tour of Romandie when he was saying he wasn’t on form – Cavendish is a champion and when he has an objective in mind he’s hard to beat. I can only hope that I manage to get over the mountains in this Giro a little better than he does and then maybe I might manage to beat him in a sprint or two.”
For all the plaudits Viviani received from his teammates on crossing the line, however, he is acutely aware that sprinting is a results a business. In spite of his consistency through the early months of the season, Viviani has yet to claim a victory in 2013. Nonetheless, he looked to strike an optimistic note as he headed off to clean up for the podium ceremony.
“Even though I haven’t won, I’ve always been up there so my morale is quite high,” Viviani said. “I’m missing the win alright and when you’re a sprinter that weighs on you quite a bit. But I set out this season aiming to be a factor in the big races. I was a protagonist at Paris-Nice and I’ve been a protagonist again today at the Giro. And the Giro is still long. There are twenty stages left and a few sprints where I can have a go.”