Fernando Gaviria is set to lead the line for UAE Team Emirates at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, with he and directeur sportif Allan Peiper both stating that, all things being equal, he – and not Alexander Kristoff – will be their Plan A.
When Gaviria signed for UAE ahead of this season, Kristoff said he hoped the management didn't see him as a lead-out rider, because he'd be a rather expensive one. By February, his tone had changed, and he was happy to work for Gaviria in the sprint finishes at the UAE Tour, providing a perfect launchpad to victory on stage 2.
The former Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo winner had said that he was happy to sacrifice his chances in support of the Colombian on the straight-forward flat races, but did suggest he roles would reverse on the rather more rigorous tests of the Spring Classics.
Gaviria will ride all the major one-day races over the next three weeks, with the exception of E3-Harelbeke. Gent-Wevelgem, sometimes referred to as the sprinters' classic, is where UAE have the biggest headache between their two leaders.
"If it's a sprint, I'll try to do it," Gaviria said after finishing second at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday, though he was well aware the race is rarely so straight-forward.
"Two years ago, a break of two went to the line, three years ago a group of four. We need to stay together and try for a bunch sprint, or, if a small group attacks, try to enter it with Kristoff or me."
Asked if Kristoff was aware and happy with the hierarchy, the 24-year-old said: "Yes. If I arrive with good legs, he will help me. If I arrive tired, or Kristoff is stronger, I'll help him.
"We spoke about it in the winter. Normally in the Tour of Flanders I'll help him because it's too hard for me. Also, maybe some stages at the Tour are harder so I don’t try and it’s his opportunity. It's about balance."
Allan Peiper, also new to UAE, is one of the sport directors charged with managing the two high-profile riders. He told Cyclingnews the team's plans had already been made clear to all parties.
"Alexander and myself already spoke this week about tactics for the Classics. If Gent-Wevelgem comes down to a 30 or 40-man sprint, it's going to be for Gaviria, and Alexander needs to do his work," Peiper said.
Asked if Kristoff was happy with that situation, he replied: "He has to be. It's team tactics, it happens in a lot of teams. It's an advantage for us to have both of them. I don't see a problem there."
While Kristoff's case for leadership at the Tour of Flanders is more clear-cut, his comments last month suggested that, even in the event of a large bunch sprint at Gent-Wevelgem, he would still have a case. As he sees it, his finishing power remains relatively undiminished, compared to a pure sprinter, at the end of a punishing day's racing.
"That's possible," said Peiper, pointing out Kristoff's sprint at Milan-San Remo on Saturday, where he led home the main bunch behind the winning selection. “It was only for 14th place, but he looked like he had a lot of power there, and that’s a 300-kilometre race."
Gaviria finished 15th, though warned against reading too much into it.
"Yeah, but why would you sprint for 15th place? For points? Bah, I think the team pay me to win, not for points. I think. I don't know. Maybe the team wants five or 10 points – I don’t know how many points you get for 15th."
Though both riders seem to understand the situation, and Kristoff has already shown this year his willingness to compromise, Peiper said it would be 'chaos' to let the riders call the shots, and insisted he will be the voice of authority.
"It comes down to honesty and clarity on the day and in the moment. I don't think anyone wants to take responsibility for doing the sprint if they're dead, so we need to cross that bridge in the finale of these races, if and when we get there. Is Fernando still good? Is Alexander still good? Then the director makes a decision. The obvious way It needs to go and both riders understand that.
"It's all about management, and the director giving clear signals about what’s expected. Of course, if you leave it up to the riders it's going to be chaos, but that's my job to take responsibility, and I will."
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