Elia Viviani hugged Team Sky teammate and leadout man Ben Swift in celebration after winning stage two of the Dubai Tour. The tension and pressure created by his own expectations and desire to win for his new team disappeared as he raised his arms in victory. Now he can head to the rapidly approaching track world championships with more confidence and then look forward to Ghent-Wevelgem and the sprint stages at the Giro d'Italia.
The friendly 25 year-old Italian from Verona has won 30 races in his five-year career but this one was special. Not only was it his first win for Team Sky but he had also taken the scalps on Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step and fellow Italian Andrea Guardini (Astana).
“After the closing of the (Italian) Cannondale team, Team Sky has put their faith in me and believed in me. That's very important for me,” Viviani told the media at the Dubai Tour in his post-stage winner's press conference.
“I'd done three sprints before this one and they did everything they could to help me win. This win comes after two podiums, so its great to get a win. I'm really happy to have finished off their great work.”
Viviani is convinced moving to Team Sky and entering the peak years of his career can help him improve and win the big sprints on the WorldTour circuit.
“I'm happy about my first five years as a professional. If you look at numbers. I've won 30 races and this is the 31st,” he pointed out.
“I've had good results at the Dauphine and the Giro. In the WorldTour I've been in up there and shown myself in the Classic. For sure this year is important. I need to step up and hope it happens. The race are there and I hope changing teams being part of a new set-up can give me extra motivation so that I can win some big races.”
Team Sky has boosted its sprint squad and appears ready to work for Viviani and Swift during the 2015 season, as well as targeting the general classification in stage races with Chris Froome and Richie Porte and the Classics with Bradley Wiggins, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas.
“We don't have one sprint team for all season, we have different selections in different races,” Viviani explained.
“For example at Tirreno-Adriatico we'll have some guys for the GC and some for the sprint. But I think I'll have help in every sprint and that's important for me this year. Last year I tried to win sprints but perhaps only had good position three times out of ten but now I can try to win nine time out of ten and that's a big difference.”
Respect for Cavendish
Mark Cavendish has understandably been critical of teams at the Dubai Tour that are unwilling to help with the work of chasing the breaks during stages so they can save their legs for the sprint. Viviani and Cavendish respect each other due to their shared track backgrounds and results on the boards. Viviani seemed to accept that the Manxman was pointing the finger at Team Sky but defended the decision not to work.
“I get on well with Cav, we've had some close results, for example in 2013 at the Giro in Naples, when we were fighting for the pink jersey or also in the Tour or Turkey last year. I think Cav thinks well of me and I'm happy about that,” he said.
“We didn't work on front yesterday but that was because we'd been on the podium twice but not won. We really wanted to win today and so we focused on finale of the stage. We worked in the peloton in Mallorca and we'll work tomorrow for sure.”
After two high-speed finishes, most of the sprinters will take a back seat during Friday's third stage to Hatta Dam. The rolling roads in the finale 50km and the short but steep ramp up to the finish line make it suited to the hilly Classics riders and sprinters who can handle the climbs.
“Geraint Thomas has good condition and he is our leader for tomorrow's (Friday's) stage. But Swifty sprinted to get the three bonus seconds and so could have a chance. We haven't seen tomorrow's stage and so we don't know if some sprinters can make it to the finish and only loose a few seconds. So I think we have two solutions for tomorrow,” Viviani revealed.
Track world championships the next goal
While many of the sprinters at the Dubai Tour will also ride the Tour of Qatar, the Tour of Oman or other early-season races in Europe Viviani will head to Paris late next week for the track world championships. He is chasing vital Olympic qualification points and will target the Omnium in Rio. At the 2012 London Olympics Viviani slipped from second place to sixth after a poor ride in the final Kilometre event.
“The track is he next goal and then there's Ghent-Wevelgem. After that the Giro d'Italia is at the heart of my road season,” Viviani said.
“I don't have much time to adopt to track racing but that means I'm not putting any pressure on myself and I'm focusing on qualification first of all. Who knows, not having any pressure on me, might help me do even better.”