Fernando Gaviria insists he is fighting fit after contracting COVID-19 twice last year, and will target stage wins at the Giro d’Italia in 2021 given UAE Team Emirates’ Tour de France squad will be geared around Tadej Pogačar.
Gaviria was one of the first professional riders to catch COVID, and spent almost two weeks in hospital in the UAE in March, although his symptoms were said to be mild.
He returned in the summer to win stages at the Vuelta a Burgos, the Tour du Limousin, and the Giro della Toscana, but tested positive for COVID once again during the Giro d’Italia, where his performances were notably subdued.
Gaviria promptly ended his season and kept a low-profile over the winter, although he is currently with his teammates at a pre-season training camp in the UAE, where he insisted he is fully healthy and ready to race.
"I had some medical check-ups in November with doctors, including a cardiologist, and they told me that everything appeared normal," Gaviria said during a press conference at the camp.
"I had some signs of having suffered a cold or something but in terms of COVID, there were no effects that showed up in the tests, so that’s a good thing."
Gaviria returned to Colombia following his second run-in with COVID and returned to training in December. With the help of a new training plan, he has worked his way into a position where he can look ahead to the prospect of winning big races once more.
"My physical state is pretty good. I’ve felt good here at the camp. After the infection, I had time to rest and then started training, so I’ve started my season preparations calmly, like I start every year. I’m in pretty good shape, and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved on the training rides so far," he said.
"I’ve been training as I used to as a kid - when I would go out to ride with my dad, and do the things he would tell me to do. We were looking to do something a bit different and for now it’s been working.
"I’m happy not to have to go to Europe immediately, with the cold and the snow and everything. I’m happy with the form I’m gathering here. There’s still a little left to go but that we can get in Europe."
No Tour de France
In 2021, Gaviria will return to the Giro d’Italia, but looks set to miss the Tour de France for a third year in a row following his breakout 2018 debut, where he won two stages and wore the yellow jersey.
2020 champion Pogačar has already been announced as team leader for July, and the line-up is set to be geared around the young Slovenian. Alexander Kristoff has been named on the team sheet but the Norwegian doesn’t require much in the way of a lead-out train, whereas Gaviria is rarely without his pilot Max Richeze and ideally has further support.
He’ll get that at the Giro, where he hopes to add to his tally of five stage wins as well as reclaiming the cyclamen points jersey he won in 2017.
"I like Italy, I’ve always liked racing in Italy, so the Giro will be a good option," he insisted. "With the plans for the Tour this year, with everything we want to achieve with Tadej, this is logical."
It is unclear where exactly Gaviria will start his 2021 campaign - and he pointed out that the pandemic has put the calendar back into doubt - but he will ride the UAE Tour in late February before taking aim once again at Milan-San Remo. He will then dip into the cobbled Classics - where he has yet to fulfill his promise - before taking a break and building up to the start of the Giro on May 8.
"There are many important races before we get to the Giro," he said. "There’s our home race at the UAE Tour, which is really important to us. Then we have Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, then the northern Classics - I don’t know which ones I’ll do but I’ll do some. The aim is to get to all of those races in top form."
As for after the Giro, it seems only an unexpected problem with Pogačar or Kristoff would open a Tour spot, with the Vuelta a España a possibility later in the campaign, ahead of the World Championships, which are set to suit the Classics specialists in the Flanders region of Belgium. Gaviria, however, refused to look beyond the Giro.
In any case, he is keen to bounce back from a trying 2020 and get back to delivering the sort of performances that had him knocking on the door of being the best sprinter in the world.
"2020 wasn’t a lost year because of the health problems, but it wasn’t a good year in terms of results," he said, having won six races in 2020 - the other three all coming at the Vuelta a San Juan in January - but none at WorldTour level. "The results needed to be much better."
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