The history maker: Fernando Gaviria
Colombian feted after four wins in Grand Tour debut
The headlines and admiration for Fernando Gaviria's sprinting skills have multiplied with each of his stage victories at the Giro d'Italia.
His first win in Cagliari came after a Quick-Step Floors masterclass in echelon riding. His second in Messina was a dominant display of speed, while the third in Reggio Emilia confirmed his skill and consistency under pressure.
His fourth win in Tortona on Friday was arguably the most spectacular, earning special praise for the way he fought back to catch the sprinters, dived fearlessly along the barriers and then had the speed to pass Sam Bennett and hit the finish line first.
His three victories equalled Giuseppe Saronni's 1978 record of three victories in a Giro d'Italia debut. Four wins at just 22 equalled a feat of the prodigious Damiano Cunego in 2004 and made him the first Colombian to ever win four stages in a single Grand Tour. Gaviria has definitively destroyed the stereotype that the best Colombian riders are always climbers.
Gaviria is an archetypal modern sprinter. He can win with a lead-out train, fight on his own and change his strategy in a split second and even come back from the behind. It makes him the most exciting talent of his young generation; he is the heir to Peter Sagan's crown and could quickly try to overthrow the world champion.
"It's easy to compare him to Sagan, but it's right too," Saronni told La Gazzetta dello Sport, who pointed to the fact that Sagan won three stages in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana and then at the 2012 Tour de France when just 22.
"I like him. He reminds me of Patrick Sercu because of his track skills combined with sprinting speed. He's a modern sprinter who can go on to win many of the Classics. We're only at the start of his career. I hope that the best is yet to come."
No Tour de France debut but a protected role in the 2018 Classics
Quick-Step Floors manager Patrick Lefevere was in Tortona to see Gaviria win for a fourth time. The Belgian team manager is working to secure the long-term future of his team following the retirement of Tom Boonen. He is hoping that Gaviria can develop into the next great sprinter and Classics star and so help attract a major sponsor for 2018.
Lefevere confirmed to Cyclingnews that Gaviria will have a protected role in the 2018 spring Classics, but he won't ride this year's Tour de France.
"We don't kill our riders," Lefevere told Cyclingnews, quickly ending any chance of seeing Gaviria take on Sagan for the green points jersey in July.
"For now is only goal, for now, is to finish the Giro d’Italia and win the cyclamen points jersey."
Lefevere is just happy to see Gaviria win and continue his high-speed development. "He's a special talent; he showed that even before I managed to sign him and that's why we ended up having to pay him more…" Lefevere said with a smile, knowing that he has already secured a massive return on his investment.
"Only God knows how good he can become. We've seen some big talents come through quickly and then disappear quickly. A rider can suffer a big crash or injury, so many things can happen. We hope that old and wise enough in the team to keep Fernando’s feet on the ground."
Lefevere doesn't like to make a comparison with the greats of the past, even if they help explain Gaviria's achievements and potential. "Gaviria is Gaviria. He did something pretty unique in the sprint to win his fourth stage. He lost the wheel, he closed a big gap, dived into a space near the barriers where nobody else would dare go, and then he won," Lefevere said in praise.
"We also have Marcel Kittel, who is bigger, stronger and perhaps faster in a straight sprint. But if Marcel had been in the same situation as Fernando, he would have hit the brakes. Fernando doesn't brake in sprints because of his bike ability learnt on the track.
"The next Sagan? Maybe because he seems to have it all. But he has to learn to speak English if he wants to be the next Sagan and global star. That's the only thing he’s missing for now."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.