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Elia Viviani (Cannondale)
Italian sprinter buoyed by Tour of Turkey wins
Twelve months ago, Elia Viviani arrived at the Giro d'Italia with his legs in tune following a heavy spring racing programme, but without a single victory to buttress his confidence as he faced into the white heat of the race’s bunch sprints.
It was to prove a consistent but utterly frustrating Giro debut for the Cannondale sprinter, as he took second places on the opening day in Naples and at Margherita di Savoia at the end of the opening week, before completing his race with a third place finish in Brescia.
Fresh from two sprint victories at the recent Tour of Turkey, however, as well as an earlier win at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, Viviani lines up in Belfast in a relaxed frame of mind and optimistic that he can break his grand tour duck.
"The eight days of racing in Turkey gave me the jump in quality in my condition that I needed before a big tour, and winning the two stages there has definitely given me a bit more belief in that condition too," Viviani told Cyclingnews.
"Last year, I rode well at the Giro but I didn't come away with a win. But back then, I wasn't coming into the race with a pair of important wins beforehand. Those two wins in Turkey mean that my head is in a different place to last year for the first sprints of the Giro."
The man who stood between Viviani and stage victory at the Giro last year was Mark Cavendish, who won five sprints out of five in a race where bunch finishes were at a premium. Beating Cavendish into second and third place on successive days in Turkey, then, marked a considerable scalp for Viviani, particularly given that the Manxman helped himself to four wins over the course of the week.
"It was really very important for me to get those wins, especially because Cav was in very good form in Turkey, just like at the Giro last year. So to make that leap in quality, certainly that's changed a lot in my mind," said Viviani.
"He has a really strong team for the sprint and in certain situations, when they don't make any mistakes, they're virtually unbeatable. But we found two positive days for me. The first one was very difficult and then in the other one, they made a little mistake and I was ready to take the win."
Cavendish, of course, is not on hand at the Giro, preferring the Tour of California as preparation for the Tour de France, but the challenge waiting at the corsa rosa is no less imposing, with Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) making his debut in the race.
"Kittel is as strong a rival as Cavendish," Viviani said. "Maybe because he's a bit younger he might still make the odd mistake but he's got a very strong team himself and we'll look to take advantage of their work as best we can and try to beat them in a few occasions."
In 2013, Cannondale's Giro line-up was built around Ivan Basso’s general classification hopes, even though he was forced out two days before race through injury. Although Basso is present and correct this time around, there are more men in lime green devoted to Viviani's sprint cause, with Oscar Gatto, Daniele Ratto, Alan Marangoni, Davide Villella and Paolo Longo Borghini all on hand.
The first opportunity for a sprint should arrive at the end of stage 2 in Belfast on Saturday afternoon, although unlike last year's opening circuit stage around Naples, a and guaranteed there is no guarantee of a bunch finish. A decidedly more exacting afternoon is in store, with a windy sweep out to the Giant's Causeway and a day of solid rainfall posing significant obstacles.
"The Irish stage certainly won't be very calm stages. They're not simple flat stages where nothing happens beyond the finishing sprint. There'll be a bit more activity than normal, more attacking, because of the wind and the rain, so you'll have to be alert and on the front all day long," Viviani said, before smiling: "And maybe that's better for me."
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