Nearly three months after a left knee injury caused him to abandon the Giro d'Italia, Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) makes his long-awaited return to racing this Saturday at the Tour de Pologne.
For Gaviria, the aim at the Tour de Pologne is both to measure his race condition against the other top sprinters and to begin his build-up for the Vuelta a España. But the recovery from his knee injury has not been an easy process, the Colombian told Cyclingnews prior to the start.
"Getting my knee back into shape hasn't been straightforward," Gaviria, who went back to Colombia for the treatment, said. "One of my tendons was inflamed and my kneecap hurt a lot as a result.
"I had to have four weeks of physiotherapy, then I started riding because I felt good, but then it was starting to hurt again, so I'd have to stop and rest up before getting back into riding again. So for quite a while, my recovery felt like it was two steps forward, one step back."
Finally, though, the process is complete, and the former Tour de France and Giro d'Italia stage winner is looking forward to getting back into action, although he is understandably cautious about what kind of success he can have after such a long spell away.
"Recently I've been doing long training sessions without any pain whatsoever. But we're here in my first race since the knee problem arose, so we'll see how it goes."
Rather than specific sprint training, Gaviria has been doing "lengthier training sessions because I wanted my body to get used to riding for several hours."
Gaviria's return to Pologne will see him head back to Katowice's notorious downhill sprint finish, where, in 2016, as a very young racer in his first full professional season, he beat two fast men of the calibre of Elia Viviani and Caleb Ewan. The leader of Pologne for three stages, Gaviria scooped up another win on stage four ahead of Luka Mezgec before abandoning on stage five.
"I remember all of my wins because they're all different. And that stage, in particular, has a complicated finish, being downhill and on a straight road, you have to be very well-positioned. It'll be an interesting one.
"This is going to be a race in which there'll be three stages which are good for me and three stages where I'm going to be suffering a lot. But they'll help me strengthen my form for the Vuelta."
Gaviria's next race, almost certainly, will be the Vuelta a España - an event in which he's never raced - after which he wants to continue competing deep into the autumn. "I've yet to talk it over with the team in detail, but that's the goal," he confirmed.
There is a good precedent for him. In 2016, after his brace of triumphs Pologne, he won the Classic Impanis-Van Petegem in Belgium, finished second in the Giro di Piemonte and took a memorable victory in France's ‘Race of the Falling Leaves', Paris-Tours, with a devastating late acceleration.
As for the recently completed Tour de France, Gaviria says he was disappointed that he could not be there. "But you have to be realistic too," he insisted, "and recognise that if you're not up to doing it because of an injury, you're not up to doing it. I've been ok with that."
Gaviria was delighted, in any case, with at least one of the results that the Tour produced in his absence: the victory of compatriot Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) for Colombia, a first in the race.
"It was wonderful, he's a great rider, so strong and calm and I'm sure he'll get more triumphs in the year to come. Maybe one of these days he'll end up winning all three Grand Tours - he's certainly got the class to do that."