If Fernando Gaviria went a little wild on the celebrations when he took the stage 3 win and the GC lead in the Giro d'Italia on Sunday – even emptying the bottle of spumante wine over his head as he stood on the podium in Cagliari – it was only logical.
After all, the Quick-Step Floors rider had not only just captured a first stage win and the overall lead three days into his first Grand Tour. For the first time, too, thanks to Gaviria, Colombian cycling has taken a leader's jersey in the Giro d'Italia on a flat stage and with a sprinter, not in the country's traditional hunting grounds of the high mountains. All this with Gaviria just 22-years-old, to boot.
"We've had the pink jersey with Rigoberto [Urán], Nairo [Quintana] and Esteban [Chaves], but they've all been climbers or all-rounders," Gaviria explained to the press later. "Getting a pink jersey on a stage like this gives us a broader perspective on the sport."
Gaviria also said that on a personal level, his stage win and spell in the lead put behind a period of self-doubt, one that presumably had lasted up until the moment he had crossed the finishing line in Cagliari, his right arm punching out in satisfaction a few metres later and roaring with delight as he freewheeled past the media and team soigneurs.
"When I got to the Giro d'Italia I was worried that the other riders were much stronger than me," Gaviria, fourth on stage 2 to Tortolì, and 12th in Olbia on stage 1, said. "I had been training a lot before the Giro started and I thought I should have been doing better than that. But now my morale is much better."
Gaviria had said before the Giro d'Italia that his main objective was to make it through to Milan and complete a Grand Tour. But with his spell in pink now guaranteed until Tuesday and a stage win, come what may in the Giro's remaining stages, Gaviria can leave the race feeling satisfied.
Indeed, Gaviria's final sprint, first following Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) then forging ahead on the other side of the road, was possibly the most straightforward part of the stage for the young Colombian, compared with creating the split itself. "There was a strong crosswind and we had six riders ahead, so we decided to take that opportunity," Gaviria said.
"We were expecting the echelons to form, and we were ahead to see what would happen. I saw that [Daniele] Bennati and Nairo were trying to get across and into the move, and I yelled through the radio 'full gas, full gas.' That way we opened up a gap and now we have something to celebrate."
The initial split was effectively engineered by Gaviria's teammate Bob Jungels accelerating sharply, and Gaviria predicted that the Luxembourg road champion's hard work will reap its own special reward come Tuesday.
"I don't think I'll have the maglia rosa that evening after Mount Etna, but I don't expect there'll be that much action on the climb, there's still three weeks to go for the big favourites. Bob is ahead of the other GC contenders in the overall classification, so I think he'll be in pink after the stage," Gaviria predicted.
For now, though, it is Colombia that has something to celebrate, and Gaviria said he hoped that moments of sporting success like his could change the international perspective on his country. "My own nickname is El Mísil [the Missile] and I don't like that because it is a weapon," Gaviria said. "We're always criticised in Colombia for there being too much violence and war, and it'd be good to change people's view of us, because really we're a country like any other." And after Sunday, Gaviria's historic breakthrough for Colombian sport will surely help that process.
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