One race, one win. Fernando Gaviria got his 2017 season underway in style on the opening day of the Vuelta a San Juan, bagging that most sought-after and treasured commodity for a sprinter – an early victory.
"The importance cannot be overstated," said the Colombian in his post-race press conference, yet you'd probably forgive him for taking it for granted now, as he has claimed January victories on Argentinian soil three campaigns in a row.
The first came before he'd even turned pro, in 2015, when he got the better of Mark Cavendish on two occasions at the Tour de San Luis, and he returned to that race last year in the colours of QuickStep to grab another stage and set himself up for one of the most remarkable neo-pro seasons in recent memory.
"We all prepare for victory, no one really prepares for defeat, so starting the season with a win is great, and it gives me that confidence going forward," said Gaviria, who also noted the calibre of riders he has put to the sword in his home continent.
"Two years ago I beat Mark Cavendish, last year Peter Sagan, and now Elia Viviani. They are three top riders. They've trained just as hard as me but I've been able to count on a bit of luck and slightly stronger legs in the sprints here in Argentina."
Gaviria certainly feels utterly comfortable in the height of the South American summer, joking that the only thing he doesn't like about the heat is the affect of the air conditioning on his – now-croaky – voice.
Yet he acknowledged that he was at an advantage today thanks to the chaos that ensued in the final couple of kilometres. Faced with a fork in the road, half the peloton went to the right, as indicated in the roadbook, but the organisers had altered the route late one, and the other half of the bunch followed signals to go to the left. In the end, riders were scrambling to get back on course and Gaviria faced reduced opposition from a fragmented front group.
“They closed the road where we were meant to go, and we all had the old map in the roadbook," he explained. "In the end, it benefited us, but there has to be a bit more care taken when it comes to the finishes in the coming days. A book ended up taking away from what should have been a great spectacle today.
"The roads are perfect, the organisation is great – there was just an error that cannot happen one-and-a-half kilometres from the finish line – a fundamental part of the race."
One of the questions that has hovered over the build-up to this race is that of leadership in the QuickStep team. Gaviria is understandably their number one sprinter here, but Tom Boonen has also indicated his desire to grab a chance of his own – understandably keen to kick off his final season with one of those all-important victories.
Boonen played the role of leadout man perfectly today, and he was praised by Gaviria, who didn't rule out turning the tables and working for the more experienced Belgian later in the race.
"From the start we set out with the plan that I would sprint. We were confident that the decisions we took were the right ones and as a result we have a victory for the team," he said.
"The key of the triumph is the whole team – it's thanks to them that I achieved this victory. And we hope to keep putting on a show, and why not go for a stage with Boonen, or [Maximiliano] Richeze?"
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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