Elia Viviani (Sky) will try to bridge an 18-year gap for Italian cycling when he lines up in the omnium at this week's UCI Track World Championships at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines on the outskirts of Paris, though he faces stiff opposition from a number of contenders, including Fernando Gaviria (Colombia).
Remarkably, Italy has not claimed a men’s world title on the track since 1997, when Silvio Martinello won the points race and the azzurri won the team pursuit in Perth. Viviani, who won the European Championships in the omnium in Guadeloupe in October, is the man best-placed to bring an end to that drought, especially given that the recent changes introduced to the multi-discipline event have increased the importance of the final points race.
"Yes, the redistribution of the six events has done me a favour but that doesn't mean I'm the favourite," Viviani told Gazzetta dello Sport. "The European Championships aren't the Worlds. Above all, for me it’s important to score important points for Olympic qualification. But I won't hold back. I always race to win."
Viviani arrives in France on a high after claiming a stage victory ahead of Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) at the recent Dubai Tour and he declared himself pleased both with his work on the track in Monichiari and his first months at Team Sky.
"I've built an excellent base and dedicated a lot of time to specific exercises: from standing starts to sprints, we haven’t left anything to chance," he said. "I've found an extraordinary environment. I feel a lot of expectation but also a lot of faith. I'm ready."
While Viviani will tackle the team pursuit on the Wednesday and the Madison on the final day of the Worlds on Sunday, he confirmed that he will not take part in Thursday’s scratch race, so as not to jeopardise his chances in the omnium – and his target of ensuring qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
"The scratch race is the day before the omnium begins and I didn't think it was wise to take risks, because going to the Olympics is too important," he said.