After spending over two years switching between disciplines as he worked towards competing on the road and track at the London Olympics, Elia Viviani (Cannondale) can finally devote his attentions fully to matters on the road in 2013.
The Italian suffered the heartbreak of slipping out of the medal positions in the final event of the omnium last August but he had little time to dwell on that disappointment. Shortly afterwards, Viviani was lining up for grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España and he continued his season to the Tour of Beijing in October, eager to sink solid foundations ahead a more relaxed off-season than he had enjoyed for some time.
"I took a full month off after that and it was a calmer winter than I've had in recent years," said Viviani, who had chased Olympic qualification at track World Cups during the previous two winters.
"My winter training has changed a lot too, seeing as I'm just preparing for the big road races, and not riding the track world championships. I'd like to pick up a result here in Qatar, but the most important thing for me is to be ready for Paris-Nice and then find my best condition for the Classics. I want to win something big this year."
Viviani's rapid finish yielded seven victories on the road last season, but as penchant for track racing suggests, the 23-year-old has no desire to be pigeon-holed as purely a sprinter. In 2013, therefore, Viviani makes his first concerted tilt at the Classics (he previously rode the Tour of Flanders in 2011 and Milan-San Remo last year), although he stressed that it would primarily be an exploratory mission.
"I'd see myself as a realist. As an Italian, Milano-Sanremo is special for me, but you really need to come close a couple of times before you can think about winning," he said. "So I don't know if I'll be competitive there this year. I'm probably thinking more of a classic like Gent-Wevelgem, where I think I can have my say. I've got that circled in red as a race where I could do well."
Viviani also acknowledged that Peter Sagan, 4th on the Lungomare Italo Calvino last year, will lead Cannondale's challenge on March 17, but he was more bullish about his role at Gent-Wevelgem, where Sagan finished second behind Tom Boonen in 2012.
"Like I said, I'm a realist. So if at Sanremo, Peter can do better than me, then at Gent-Wevelgem, maybe he can help me, but that's something we'll decide on the road," he said. "In any case, there certainly won't be any problems between Peter and me. We understand each other well in situations like that."
Viviani's classics campaign will end at the Tour of Flanders – "I'd like to go well there in the future, but this year, I'm going there purely to help Peter," he said – and he will postpone his Paris-Roubaix debut for at least another year, lest a crash upset his preparations for the Giro d'Italia in May.
"I'd like to try and win a stage for sure, and then after 15 days, I'll see where I'm situated in the points classification," he said. "But first of all, in this year's Giro, the important thing for me is to have a crack at a few stages and get to the finish in Brescia really."
Viviani is heartened by his experiences at last year's Vuelta, which he rode after spending a sizeable chunk of his summer on the boards. He finished second on two occasions to the in-form John Degenkolb, but he drew encouragement from the fact that he was so competitive in the bunch sprint on the final day in Madrid.
"The Vuelta gave me a lot of reassurance about what I can do over three weeks," Viviani said. "I felt alright on the climbs even in the last week and I was still good in the sprints, as I showed by doing the sprint in Madrid behind Degenkolb. The Giro maybe has tougher climbs again but the Vuelta certainly helped to give me a bit more knowledge about what I'm capable of."
Currently competing at the Tour of Qatar, Viviani suffered a scare when he crashed early on stage 3, although the Italian remounted and though he took a heavy blow to his ribs, he reported no serious injuries.
"I was one of the first to fall, which meant that a lot of riders landed on top of me," Viviani told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 4. "When I saw the doctor about my ribs yesterday, he told me there not to worry, so I'm ready to start again. Of course you feel bad the day after a crash, but I'll be alright once I get racing again."