For Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is one of the one-day WorldTour races suited to his characteristics. The majority of the Italian’s 50 professional wins have come in stage races but his Cyclassics Hamburg and Bretagne Classic triumphs of last year were evidence of his growing pedigree in one-day events, and his second place in the Australian race on Sunday provided further proof of his versatility.
Buoyed by his Tour Down Under stage win last week, Viviani had reconned the Geelong course and was targeting victory. With Dries Devenyns in form after his fifth place on GC at the stage race, Quick-Step Floors also had two cards to play but, in the sprint to the line, Viviani would prove to have the quicker legs of the duo.
Bora-Hansgrohe's Jay McCarthy, though, had the quickest kick of the lot, with Viviani's dive on the line still a wheel length short.
"This is a race I really like to try to win. Sometimes when you see me lose me a bunch sprint it is for that. This is a race I really want to work for and to try and win. This one and San Remo," Viviani said of his early-season goals.
"There are not a lot of WorldTour Classics I can win and for sure to go close like that is really disappointing."
On the final lap of the course around Geelong, Viviani was distanced on the Challambra Crescent climb, victory looking likely for the front group that contained Devenyns and McCarthy among several others. However, with compatriot and teammate Eros Capecchi emptying the tank to catch the leaders, there was a regrouping inside the final kilometre.
The catch, though, came too late and the adjusted finish line - 300 metres shorter than 2017 - would ultimately work against Viviani and QuickStep-Floors.
"When I see five hundred meters I try to come back in the first group and try to do my sprint or nothing," he said. "I see the space on the right and I try to go straight from the back with double speed but they already start sprinting.
"When I pass Gerrans I start thinking maybe I can do it before the line but McCarthy comes from the left side really quick. He had one bike length on the line so I can't close this gap. Nothing to do, so I do my best and the team worked really well. I am pretty happy with the form and the shape."
'Too many second places'
A late burst in 2017 saw Viviani end with nine wins for the season but also 10 second places. While the Italian has his stage win from Tour Down Under, he also has two second places, with both coming in the Cadel Evans criterium and road race events. Next up is the Dubai Tour, where Viviani will aim to bolster the 'win' column.
"It is already too much second place. The goal from last year, I do nine wins and 10 second places and we are already two-one so it is not good," he explained. "I am pretty happy with the form, it is never easy coming from Europe and being competitive with the Australians or riders here for a long time so I think we did a good programme coming here January 1 and we did a good Tour Down Under."
With bigger goals to come in the year, Viviani remained realistic and could take solace in the fact that his QuickStep-Floors career has started in winning fashion, though there was no getting away from the disappointment of a lost opportunity.
"It is a good sign for my legs and for my condition on the climb and also the sprint because last week I won the bunch sprint ahead of the bigger sprinters," he said. "I am pretty happy with the shape and maybe if we won today I'd be more happy."
Rather than be consumed by the disappointment of the narrow loss, Viviani's thoughts were with his teammates Petr Vakoc and Laurens de Plus. The duo, and Bob Jungels, were training in South Africa when a truck hit them and caused serious injury. Viviani explained that at the morning team meeting it was decided the squad would ride to give strength to their teammates.
"We are really sorry to hear this and also we are worried when we go on the road. In this moment it is really dangerous to go on the road and train," he said.
"We are pretty lucky we have good news that the operation with Vakoc went well. He is not in super good shape but he can come back quickly. We hope for him and for De Plus. We hope not only with the Quick-Step team but with all the bicycle riders to have more attention on the road from us but also from the drivers."