Fabio Sabatini was asked by Marcel Kittel to join him in moving from Quick-Step Floors to Katusha-Alpecin this winter but, despite the lure of continuing a partnership that has blossomed in a short space of time, the Italian has chosen to stay put and rekindle an old alliance with Elia Viviani.
Kittel joined Quick-Step in 2016 and Sabatini, who was previously part of a Mark Cavendish lead-out train that never really clicked, was promoted to last man for the German. They hit it off instantly, with Kittel winning early in 2016 and going on to take victories at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, and then taking no fewer than five wins at this year's Tour.
"When I ride with Fabio I know it doesn't matter what happens – I have great confidence in him. He has the experience, the calmness to wait for the right moment," said Kittel as early as last May.
The 29-year-old now leaves for Katusha as Fernando Gaviria steps up as number one sprinter at the Belgian team, but Sabatini has resisted the persuasions to go with him.
"Marcel asked me to follow him, but during the Tour I spoke with [Quick-Step manager] Patrick [Lefevere] and he told me about the option of a new project with Viviani. I raced with Elia five or six years ago at Liquigas, and I liked the sound of the project and I decided to stay here for the next two years," Sabatini told Cyclingnews at the recent Saitama Criterium.
"I like it at Quick-Step, it's a big family, so in the end it was not so difficult to take this decision to stay. I'm happy."
The Viviani and Sabatini relationship began in 2011 when Viviani turned pro with Liquigas. Despite not sharing a huge amount of racing together, they became good friends, and he explains that the Italian connection was a factor when deciding between the two.
"When I raced with Elia, he was young, and didn't have so much experience, whereas Marcel was already much more experienced," said Sabatini.
"My English is not so good but I understand Marcel, and Marcel understands me – it's not for nothing that he won five stages in the Tour and 14 victories in one year. But maybe with Elia it's more friends, because we raced together, of course, for five or six years, so maybe the relationship is better."
Having Sabatini will surely feel like a luxury for Viviani, who found himself marginalised at Team Sky. Teams were almost always set up to support a general classification leader, and he ended up cancelling the final year of his contract to join Quick-Step. While the prodigious Gaviria, who won four stages at this year's Giro d'Italia on his Grand Tour debut, will be the main sprinter at the Belgian team, Viviani will still have his own calendar and his own support network.
"For Elia, next year he will have a train. With Sky he didn't, and for sure because of that he missed a lot of chances to win. Maybe this team will have four or five riders for Elia. At Sky he maybe had two," said Sabatini.
"Elia is still young and he's a really, really powerful rider. Also in the Classics, you know, this year he won Plouay, also Milan-San Remo could be for him. So we go together."
As Gaviria heads to the Tour de France for the first time in 2018, Viviani and Sabatini are due to target the Giro d'Italia, Viviani having won a stage there in 2015 but denied a spot in Sky's team this year. The race will start out in Jerusalem with a short time trial followed by two flat stages, with the rest of the route to be unveiled on Wednesday evening.
"He is capable of winning stages at the Giro, 100 per cent," said Sabatini.
"We haven't seen the stages for the Giro, but for sure the start in Israel is flat, so the start is not so bad for Elia but I don't know after that. The Giro is the Giro, it's really hard. We're hoping for five or six flat stages, but for sure, 100 per cent he will arrive in good condition for the Giro."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.