Fernando Gaviria's World Championships prospects just became a whole lot brighter. The Colombian prodigy has hardly raced in three months, and he arrived at the Tour of Britain very much playing catch-up, but he swept aside a quality field on stage 4 to give himself more than a sliver of hope that he could be in the mix in Norway later this month.
Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) won four stages at the Giro d'Italia in May and stayed in Europe for the Hammer Series at the start of June, but a crash in his first training outing since a well-earned break left him with a niggling left leg injury, which has troubled him even up to a few weeks ago.
"It was a difficult period because it was a complicated injury," the Colombian said in his winner's press conference in Newark-on-Trent. "Not being able to get on the bike for a whole month was really hard."
Gaviria returned to Europe in August, heading to Belgium, the home of his Quick-Step Floors team, to ramp up his training and test his legs in a couple of local, lower-level races.
"The time in Belgium was complicated because I did a good first week when I got there, but then the pain came back in the pantorilla (calf muscle), so that set me back again," he said. "After a little while I was out training again and things got better and better. Now here we are, back at a competitive level."
Gaviria's main aim as he boarded the flight to Britain was to finish the race. Without the kilometres in the bank, the Worlds would be a write-off.
On the first couple of stages, he was understandably off the pace, finishing fifth, third, and 20th, and while his stage 4 victory wasn't as convincing as some of his Giro exploits, beating the in-form Elia Viviani and Alexander Kristoff speaks for itself.
"It was beautiful to win again after so long," said Gaviria. "It's my first race back with the team, and to do well and get the victory is important, for morale and in terms of improving physically."
Gaviria explained that the relatively short length of the stage – the shortest road stage of the entire race at 164km – played into his hands, given that "my physical condition isn't optimal for long distances." But therein lies another problem; the Worlds course is 267.5km long.
"My condition, it's not what I'd like it to be, but it's what I've got," he added. "I've just got to try and improve it as much as possible for Norway."
Gaviria's attributes would certainly put him under the umbrella of riders who could triumph at the Worlds, where 12 laps of a finishing circuit that includes three short climbs will see the list of contenders whittled down. The Colombian is a sprinter rather than a puncheur but his fifth-place finish at Milan-San Remo earlier this year indicates he can absorb those sort of climbs, and he'd be greatly feared if still in contention by the flat final few kilometres.
"I've not been out to recon the course, but I've had a look at it via a video that the team sent round. So we've analysed it all. It's a pretty demanding course, but I think if I'm there in great condition then I can be in the mix," said Gaviria.
"You have to go in believing you can win. I think everyone will be going there thinking they can win. Pretty much everyone who's racing at the moment is preparing for the Worlds – Kristoff is preparing for the Worlds, Sagan is preparing for the Worlds – so there are lots of riders who could win it, and let's hope I'm part of the battle."