At the half-way mark of the Tour of Guangxi, Quick-Step Floors are in full command of the season's final WorldTour race, with no sign of relenting. Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria has dominated the opening salvo with three wins from three stages and at least one of all four classification jerseys packed in his suitcase for the return flight.
With 10 bonus seconds on the line for each stage win, Gaviria leads the race and is well placed for a bid at the overall title. However, should the 23-year-old see his general classification aspirations extinguished on the short and punchy climb to NongLa Scenic Spot on stage 4, Julian Alaphilippe is waiting in the wings
"I can't imagine doing better at the end of the season. If you look at the start of the season in January, Fernando is winning three stages in Argentina [at the Vuelta a San Juan -ed] and now he is still winning and in good shape. It is amazing," Quick-Step Floors sports director Rik Van Slycke told Cyclingnews and Eurosport during the stage 3 podium celebration.
A four-time stage winner on his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d'Italia in May, Gaviria's hat-trick in China has taken the Colombian to 13 wins for the season - one shy of teammate Marcel Kittel who leads the win list for the 2017 season.
Since turning professional with the Belgian team, Gaviria has gone from strength to strength and, having won three consecutive stages for the first time in his career, he could be on the cusp of a maiden general classification win.
"We will see tomorrow what happens in the race," Van Slycke said of Gaviria's possibility for the GC. "It is hard to tell what we do now. For sure we have a plan and if we can work it out, it should be ok, but we will see. Not having control of everything, we must also anticipate a little the situation, if necessary. If we can try to work out our plan, it should be ok. We try every time to win, even tomorrow, so we will see how far we go."
On the opening three sprint stages, BMC's Silvan Dillier has shown his hand for the GC with an aggressive approach of getting into breaks to mop up bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints, accruing 15 seconds so far. Jack Haig (Orica-Scott) has also chased the bonuses, as has Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Nico Roche (BMC), alongside Alaphilippe.
"I think that everybody has the same idea that it might be easier to have a few seconds ahead of your opponent," said Van Slycke.
With the race organisers providing teams with a video of the final 3km of each stage to complement the road book, the never-before-used NongLa Scenic Spot climb is a little less of an unknown proposition than it could have been. The punchy climb to the summit is likely to decide the overall and, whether Quick-Step Floors will be backing in Gaviria or Alaphilippe for the red jersey, Van Slycke added the team is taking further contingency measures to familiarise themselves with the climb.
"We will put somebody in front of the race first to find out," he said. "Somebody said six per cent, somebody said eight per cent, and somebody said 10 per cent. We find out when we are there and uphill, there is no discussion. The legs of the riders will talk every time. If we can handle it, good ok, if not, then Fernando will drop and we will take the three stages we have."
While the climb may prove to be a surprise, it should come as no surprise should Quick-Step Floors celebrate its 56th win of the season and land a knock out blow for its rivals in southern China.
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