Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) has tipped former teammate Chris Froome (Team Sky) as his favourite to win the Giro d'Italia, while the Italian sprinter's own objectives start as soon as Saturday's stage 2 to Tel Aviv.
Viviani's last - and to date, only - stage win in the Giro d'Italia was in 2015. This year, after his move to Quick-Step Floors, he already has six victories on his palmares even if his last Classic, Gent-Wevelgem, ended in a disappointingly close defeat to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Viviani's first goal at the Giro d'Italia is to get a stage win. He then wants to put aside his experience of not finishing the 2016 Giro d'Italia, when he finished outside the time limit after eight stages. This time, he says, he is determined to finish his home race for the first time since 2015.
"I know it's very hard, but we've got extra motivation this time with the sprinters' stage in Rome," he pointed out. "I will be thinking about the points jersey, but let's take it step by step.
"My first goal is to win a stage, maybe even on Saturday or Sunday."
Looking ahead to Sunday, which ens in the desert resort of Eilat, Viviani reminded the media that he has a healthy track record of winning in stages running across deserts. This season, both in Dubai, which he won overall title, and again in Abu Dhabi.
"I'd like to continue that winning trend in this part of the world," he said, always understanding the context of his success.
Longer-term in the Giro d'Italia, the Italian says, his ideal race would consist of snapping up a trio of bunch sprint stage wins and then finishing in the points jersey. He is feeling confident and in good shape, but admitted that his participation in the recent Tour de Romandie, his first race back after Gent-Wevelgem, was simply a week of suffering and didn’t provide him with any clear answers about his condition.
In defence of Froome
While some have called Chris Froome to recuse from racing until his salbutamol case is resolved, Viviani defended Froome's right to race, even suggesting that a victory, given the external pressure, would have added value for his former teammate.
"His win would be bigger than a usual one," Viviani suggested
"If Froome can race, then he can thinking about winning the Giro, Vuelta and Tour, and he can reach Rome in the maglia rosa for sure. I think he's the favourite for this Giro d'Italia."
Viviani's Quick-Step Floors team is built almost exclusively around him, given that Quick-Step Floors do not have any obvious GC option, unlike other years in the Giro d'Italia.