It's a fair bet that with no flat stages in the third week of the 2017 Giro d'Italia, a hefty proportion of the race's sprinters will be not be seeing Milan this year. However, one new face among the fast men on the block – Quick-Step Floors' Fernando Gaviria – is determined that he will try to complete the race, regardless of how many Dolomite and Alpine passes he has to get over to do so.
"I can't say what my final objectives will be in the Giro d'Italia," Gaviria observed on Thursday, "but going to Milan, all the way, is the big goal this time round."
It's indicative of how quickly the Colombian is rising in sprinting's unofficial hierarchy that it comes as something of a surprise to remember that he has never taken part in a Grand Tour. This season alone the Quick-Step Floor rider has taken wins in every stage race he's taken part in, from the Vuelta a San Juan in January through the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal to Tirreno-Adriatico in March, as well as a fifth place in Milan-San Remo. But at 22, the Grand Tours remain uncharted waters for Gaviria.
"I'm pretty nervous, it's a new race, and that's a challenge for me," he admitted freely on Thursday. "There's a bit more pressure here because there are a lot of sprinters and a lot of them are top names with impressive palmares. So I can only hope to do things the best way possible."
Colombia has rarely had sprinters in Grand Tours, with one of their few fast men, 2007 Vuelta a España stage winner Leonardo Duque, developing into an all-rounder before retiring in 2016 having won the final stage of his last ever race, the Tour of Tahu Lake in China, last November. "I'm not the only sprinter Colombia has," Gaviria quietly insisted, "but of course having sprinters makes a Grand Tour much more interesting for fans, they will want to watch it from beginning to end, not just the mountains."
Gaviria's build-up to the Giro d'Italia has not been that race-intensive, with his last completed race Gent-Wevelgem in late March, prior to an abandon at Eschborn-Frankfurt last Monday. Between the two Classics, he's spent a large amount of time in Colombia but for personal reasons, "to see my family. Although, I was training there at 1,500 metres because that's the altitude of their hometown, so I was at altitude anyway."
The benefits of that spell at home could become clear very soon in this year's race. Gaviria is, like the rest of the sprinters, even more motivated than usual for Friday's first stage finish, likely to end in a bunch dash and which offers the rare, and considerable, bonus of at least 24 hours in the maglia rosa for the victor. "I trust fully in my lead out, Max Richeze," Gaviria said, "and he's doing a great job, one that's crucial for my chances." So even if Gaviria's ultimate objective is to make it all the way to Milan, a victory on Friday would already make his Giro d'Italia debut a massive success.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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