Fernando Gaviria set off from Plaza Pringles on Monday afternoon scarcely able to believe the company he was keeping at the Tour de San Luis but the young Colombian rounded off the day by claiming the biggest scalp of his young career en route to stage victory in Villa Mercedes.
The 20-year-old’s light smattering of acne and what might generously be described as a footballer’s haircut certainly betrayed his youth, but he belied those tender years with a clinical finisseur’s move at the end of the race’s opening stage.
By opting to open his sprint with 300 metres to go, Gaviria was able to steal a march on Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), and he had enough of an advantage to hold off the pair in the final 100 metres.
"I was really nervous at the start because I had some great riders next to me. I didn't dream of beating Cavendish but I wanted to show that Fernando Gaviria could be competitive at this level and I'm happy I did that," Gaviria told reporters afterwards.
"I thought it was going to be impossible to win against the strongest riders. It was intimidating to see the [Etixx-QuickStep] train for the sprint but I picked my moment and I had a teammate to help me in the last kilometre."
Gaviria's victory against such exalted opposition was a surprise, though his pedigree is evident from his brief career to date. Indeed, much like Cavendish, his early international successes came on the track, as he landed world titles in the Madison and Omnium as a junior in New Zealand in 2012. Just last month, Gaviria added the Omnium at the London World Cup to his palmares, and his victory here was a statement of his intentions on the road.
"My personal story up to now is short because I'm young," Gaviria said shyly in the press tent behind the podium. "I'm from a pueblo near Medellin and I have won two junior World Championships on the track [Omnium and Madison] and a round of the World Cup in London in December."
Indeed, cycling runs very much in the family. Gaviria's older sister Juliana represented Colombia in the sprint on the track at the London 2012 Olympics and he dedicated his San Luis victory "to my parents and to my sister, who is injured but hopes to recover to ride the track Worlds in Paris."
As Gaviria clasped the microphone during the press conference, an orange paper band was visible around his wrist. On checking into their hotels in San Luis at the weekend, riders were given those wristbands to indicate to the restaurant staff that their meals were to be provided free of charge. Most, if not all, of the peloton quite reasonably opted to dispense with the formality. After all, professional bike riders in their team tracksuits tend to stand out in the Cuyo region. Perhaps the young Gaviria was worried that the waiting staff would simply not believe that he was part of the race, though he should hardly have the same concerns after Monday's win.
"It's fantastic, this is the most important win of my career," he said. "And all the more so because I managed to beat a rider with so many successes of his own."
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