In an era of marginal gains and ever-increasing specialisation, Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) is something of an anomaly; a throwback to a less calibrated era of cycling. He has no qualms about switching back and forth between road and track during the season. Indeed racing a full season seems to be a particular point of honour for the young Italian sprinter.
Viviani began racing and winning at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina in January. Now, almost ten months on, he is ending his season in committed fashion at the Tour of Beijing, and took his seventh victory of the season on Tuesday’s opening stage.
During the ten-month season, the 23-year-old suffered a fractured pelvis at the track world championships in Melbourne in April, recovered to fall cruelly short of the medals in the Omnium at the London 2012 Olympics in August, and then completed the Vuelta a España for good measure.
After pulling on the first red jersey of overall leader at the Tour of Beijing, Viviani shrugged off the idea of fatigue at the end of such a demanding campaign, saying he was simply tired of the fact that he had not won a race since taking a stage of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali in late March.
“I’m a bit tired alright, but mainly because it’s been a while since I’ve had a win,” Viviani told Cyclingnews.
“It was a big disappointment to miss out on a medal at the Olympics, and it was tough to finish second in two stages at the Tour of Poland and then to have a couple more second places at the Vuelta. More than being physically tired, I think I was tired from not winning. That said, after this Tour of Beijing, I’ll be resting up for the winter so that I can get to 2013 a bit fresher.”
At the London Olympics, Viviani entered the final event of the Omnium with the gold medal within his grasp but his poor performance in the kilometre time trial saw him slip to sixth place in the final standings. With the Olympics now done, Viviani is set to rein in his non-road commitments in the next couple of seasons, but he admitted that he has unfinished business on the track in Rio in 2016.
“My track career might have finished if I had taken a medal, but I’m going to continue on the track,” he said. “For the next couple of years, I’ll certainly be more concentrated on the road, and that might mean that I’m not at the Worlds, but I wouldn’t say I’m finished with the track.”
Staying on track
Viviani’s love of the track goes against the grain of the modern tendency in Italian cycling, which is succinctly reflected by the way Milan’s hallowed Vigorelli stadium has fallen into disuse in recent years. In order to secure his passage to London as Italy’s sole track rider, Viviani sacrificed his off-season and spent last winter on the boards, including a trek to the World Cup event in Astana, Kazkhstan, in November, to qualify for the Olympics.
In spite of his frustrating run of second-place finishes over the past six months, Viviani refused to blame his attempts to juggle his road and track commitments, and pointed instead to the injury his sustained in Melbourne in March.
“I think what cost me more than anything was the change in programme at the beginning of the season when I fractured my pelvis at the track Worlds,” Viviani said.
“I had to do a lot to get back, but I never really got back to my best. At the Tour of Poland I was okay and I even managed to get second. By the time we got to the Vuelta, I was tired in my head because of how things had gone at the Olympics, but at the same time, in London I was in contention for gold right up until the final event.”
Whatever the state of Viviani’s mental fatigue in the closing weeks of the season, he received an unexpected boost to his morale on touching down at Beijing’s Capital airport last week. Every lamppost on the road into the city is decorated with a banner advertising the Tour of Beijing, and the image chosen was of Viviani claiming his stage victory in the race last year.
“It was certainly a surprise,” he smiled. “But it’s also pleasing to know that you’ve left a mark in some way. When the race is publicised to that extent, hopefully it means that the people enjoy it.”