The Tour de Langkawi has long been an important race for his Androni-Giocattoli squad - Gianni Savio's team has won the race overall six times - but it has also been Savio's place to test the credentials of his young Latin American talents.
In 2017, Egan Bernal was Savio's star attraction in Langkawi and, while the Colombian was unable to win the overall, he nevertheless went on to have a breakout season and ended the year by signing with Team Sky.
In 2018, 19-year-old Kevin Rivera is the latest joven promesa to line out in Malaysia but Savio is not placing any pressure on the Costa Rican to perform, even though Rivera won a stage and the overall at the Tour of China last year and started 2018 with a stage win at the 2.2 Vuelta al Táchira.
With seven of the eight stages suited to bunch sprints in Langkawi, Savio has instead built the team around Manuel Belletti, as he explained to Cyclingnews after stage 1 of the race.
"We are here also to win stages with Manuel Belletti. He is a rider I put into the professional ranks 10 years ago and he comes back with us this year," Savio said after the veteran had placed fourth.
"I saw him in the finish in fourth maybe or fifth but there was a problem for him with the crash. Fortunately, he was not in the crash but the man who would lead him out, Matteo Malucelli, who won two stages in Vuelta al Táchira, did, so Belletti was alone in the sprint. It was a good result."
While Belletti is closing on in his last years as a professional, Rivera is still learning the trade as a professional cyclist. The Tour de Langkawi, though, is a race suited to both riders. For Rivera, it is the opportunity for further learning to handle his way around the professional peloton and for Belletti to enjoy the chance to add to his 12 pro wins.
"Kevin Rivera, he is a young rider who must gain experience. He won the Tour of China last year, which was a big result. I have a contract with him for four years and he must progress. He needs experience and we will see what happens," Savio said.
Already in his young career, Rivera has been compared to Bernal but those comparisons are not quite accurate, suggests Savio, even if Michele Bartoli claims to have never tested a rider with as a high a VO2 max as Rivera. Bernal's highest claimed VO2 max is 91, by way of comparison.
"Kevin Rivera had a physical test similar to Egan Bernal. But he, Egan Bernal, is a rider that is also very young," said Savio. "I sign him at 18 like Kevin Rivera but Egan had another experience. He was on the podium in the junior mountain bike Worlds two times with second and third. He came from a tradition in Colombia with the race for young riders but with many people.
"In Costa Rica, he was only in the races with juniors and only 50, maximum 70 riders so it is different. But physically, the tests for Kevin Rivera are very good. At this moment, it is impossible to think he is maybe another Egan Bernal. I think if I find another Egan Bernal in 10 years, I will be very happy."
In May, Androni will return to the Giro d'Italia, having missed out on wildcard invitations for several seasons. The return to the Corsa Rosa was sealed with Androni winning the Ciclismo Cup. Rivera will be one of the riders for Androni on the start line and a rider to watch on the climbs. For the moment, the attention is on surviving Langkawi and impressing in the stage 5 ascent to Cameron Highlands.
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