Fernando Gaviria's successful debut with UAE Team Emirates continued at the Vuelta a San Juan, with his newly-constructed lead-out train giving the Colombian a textbook ride to the finish of stage 4 and showing how much they have developed and improved in just a few weeks together.
Gaviria was piloted by Italian pursuiter Simone Consonni after Roberto Ferrari had dragged his teammates out of the pack before the final kilometre, again executing a carefully planned lead out.
Consonni and Gaviria went shoulder to shoulder with Deceuninck-QuickStep pair Max Richeze and Alvaro Hodeg, but Consonni was stronger, faster and won the lead-out battle. Gaviria then surged down the barriers, with Consonni keeping going too close in Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and finishing fourth. He rightly celebrated Gaviria’s victory, as much of it was thanks to him.
“I think it was a perfect stage for us," said Gaviria, who also won the opening stage in Pocito. "The team didn’t need to work in peloton because we didn’t have the leader’s jersey. We took another win, so we’re very happy."
Gaviria had impressed while at Quick-Step Floors, taking 34 victories since 2015, including stages at the 2017 Giro d’Italia and then again at the 2018 Tour de France. There were doubts if he could be as successful without the Belgian blue train to lead him out, but UAE Team Emirates have been working hard on their sprint strategies and lead outs at their winter training camps, studying every detail that can make a difference in the heat of the moment.
UAE Team Emirates won just 12 times in 2018 but have already taken three victories in the opening two weeks of the 2019 season, with Jasper Philipsen also winning stage 5 at the Tour Down Under.
“I have an excellent team and they help me to win these two stages,” Gaviria said, seeming more and more convinced that he made the right decision to changes teams during the winter.
“In the time together, we’ve been working well. Things aren’t perfect and can still improve further, but we’ve started successfully. For the big races it will be difficult but we’ll keep working, and I can only hope that everything will go well like here.”
This stage victory had extra meaning for the young Colombian sprinter. In the final kilometres of last year's stage he crashed out in one of the gulley river crossings and had to abandon, massively disrupting his spring Classics campaign.
“It’s not a revenge win,” Gaviria was quick to clarify.
“When I passed the same point, I thought about it briefly, but it’s a year on and don’t dwell on things like that. It’s in the past. I was thinking I had a chance of winning and stayed focused on that.”
Gaviria remains second overall in the general classification, now only eight seconds behind stage 2 and time trial winner Julian Alaphilippe thanks to his second 10-second time bonus. UAE Team Emirates' Valerio Conti, who was an impressive second in the time trial, is third at 22 seconds and Consonni is seventh at 44 seconds.
Those placings mean UAE Team Emirates lead the team classification and gives them options for Friday’s Queen stage to Alto Colorado. Conti is their best overall hope and has been protected in the peloton so far, for that reason. Gaviria will do what he can to help his teammates, but he made it clear he is focused on stage victories, not the overall classification.
“Ill try to stay in the peloton on the climb, but I know it’ll be difficult because I’m a sprinter, not a climber, it’s not my speciality,” he pointed out to local reporters, who quizzed him about his overall chances.
"I’ll try to hold on, but much will depend on my legs on the climb," he said. "But I’m only eight seconds from the leader, so I’m going to push as much as possible. However, I didn’t come to the Vuelta a San Juan to ride for the GC.”
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