Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) chatted and joked with his former teammate Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) behind the podium at the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday. Both had just been beaten in the sprint finish by Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) but neither showed any real signs of disappointment. That will all be different, however, come Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.
"When you don't win, it's always disappointing," Viviani told Cyclingnews, "but if I need to decide if I win today or Sunday, for sure it's Sunday."
Twelve months ago, Viviani crumpled to the tarmac beyond the finish line in Wevelgem, and sat their sobbing for a good couple of minutes. He had just finished second to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hransgrohe) and the significance of the race to him was abundantly clear.
"That's a bad memory. Well, not a bad bad memory, because it was cool to be there playing for the win at Gent-Wevelgem, but for sure it was disappointing because it was a big chance," Viviani said. "I hope to have more chances like that but the disappointment was big because it was – it is – a race I really want to win in my career."
Viviani has started the 2019 season well, if not as strongly as the last. Whereas victory at De Panne was his sixth of 2018, this year he has three to his name, winning once in each of the stage races he has entered – Tour Down Under, Abu Dhabi Tour, and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Missing out in De Panne on Wednesday was no great setback, and, despite his teammates setting up the sprint "perfectly", he was happy to acknowledge that Groenewegen was the best rider on the day.
"It was a fast sprint from Groenewegen - he came really fast in the last 50 metres," Viviani said. "It was probably a sprint where it was better to come from the back, but still, he was fast. I thought at first it was a head-to-head with Fernando but then Gaviria passed on the right really faster than us and won with one bike length's advantage."
Gent-Wevelgem, he insists, will be "totally different". With an extra 50 kilometres on the menu, not to mention a more exacting parcours and more aggressive racing, any eventual sprint will have different demands. The race is sometimes referred to as the sprinters' classic but the wind, the gravel tracks, and the double ascent of the Kemmelberg – the last time coming with 34km to go – blur the lines.
Deceuninck-QuickStep, as ever, boast options aplenty, and the likes of Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert, Philippe Gilbert and Bob Jungels will surely go on the offensive. However, Viviani insisted that, provided he gets over the Kemmelberg in the lead group, the star-studded team willy rally behind him.
"It’s never easy to start a big race like that with one plan, because you never know what can happen, but if I'm there, for sure I have full support," he said.
"I'm pretty happy, because today showed the condition is there, and I can try another time. As a team we did another good team effort today and we are ready and confident for Sunday."
One factor that looks set to work in Viviani's favour is the weather. Gent-Wevelgem always has the potential to culminate in a large bunch sprint, but the wind – particularly up towards the North Sea coast – can often make the race more selective. Conditions, however, are predicted to remain warmer than usual, with relatively little wind.
"I think it's the best conditions for me. If it's totally bad weather, the race is much more difficult, so that's already a good start for me," Viviani said.
"I hope there's a good selection on the double Kemmel, and, like last year, we end up with like 30 in front. That's the best option for me – not a full bunch sprint but a reduced bunch sprint with a lot of my teammates in. That’s the best way to approach the finale to try again to win it."