Pavel Sivakov gave Team Sky a second consecutive stage victory at the Tour of the Alps and took the leader's jersey from teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart by going on the attack, but both young riders played down any internal rivalry, knowing that collective success comes before personal glory in professional cycling.
Geoghegan Hart won his first professional race on Monday, and Sivakov did the same on the 'queen stage' of the Tour of the Alps on Tuesday, kicking away from Jan Hirt (Astana) on the steep climb to the finish in Scena, near Merano. Geoghegan Hart was blocked behind with other overall contenders, including Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and Sivakov did enough to take the leader’s jersey from his teammate. He now leads Hirt by eight seconds, with Matteo Cattaneo (Androni Giocattoli) third at 23 seconds.
Geoghegan Hart slipped to seventh overall, at 43 seconds. After reaching the finish he went to find Sivakov in the podium area to congratulate him and clear the air after Sivakov had shown his personal frustrations after stage 1.
"Yesterday there was a bit of misunderstanding at certain points. It’s not easy when there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. I wanted to say to him, 'The payback came pretty fast.' I think he understands that. I'm happy," Geoghegan Hart explained, wise beyond his years.
"If you're in a strong team, you have to play the numbers. We used to do it all the time in my old amateur team (Hagens Berman Axeon), and it's nice to get the tactic perfect. I told Pavel, 'You needed to follow this stuff if you're the second guy on GC – it's perfect.' Then it split on the descent and he got in the group, and then he smashed them all to bits on the last climb," Geoghegan Hart said.
"The two strongest guys got isolated [Nibali and Rafa Majka were in the chase group - ed.]. I had a teammate who could win, so it was perfect."
Sivakov admitted that there was some youthful internal rivalry as Team Sky’s young guns fought to land their first professional victories before riding the Giro d’Italia together in the service of Egan Bernal.
"There’s always a little rivalry in teams and I don’t think this is a bad one. It’s a good one," the young French-raised Russian explained.
"We just push each other up to the top and we want to be better and better each time. I think that’s a good thing," Sivakov said. "Yesterday I did the lead-out, and today he stayed behind with the other guys. If he wasn’t there, maybe something else would have happened. One day it’s for me, another day it’s for him. Maybe tomorrow it’s going to be for him again."
Sivakov pushed back at any comparisons with the rivalry between Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas at last year's Tour de France.
"It’s not the Tour here – it’s completely different," he insisted.
Sivakov confirms under-23 success
As an under-23 rider, Sivakov won the U23 Giro d'Italia, the prestigious Ronde de l'Isard and the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc in 2017, with Team Sky convincing him to join them instead of stepping up from the BMC development team to their WorldTour squad.
Sivakov races under a Russian flag, but he was born in Italy and raised near Toulouse, France, because his father Andrei raced the Tour de France three times for BigMat-Auber 93 and his mother, Aleksandra Kolisseva, twice finished second in the Giro Rosa. He is a powerful time triallist, solid in the mountains and technically adept on descents, and, for good measure, he is pretty fast in small group sprints. He captured the Junior Tour of Flanders in 2015, finished second in the 2016 U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and was 15th in that year's U23 Paris-Roubaix.
He rode two weeks of the Vuelta a España last season but was hampered by illness and injury in his first season at WorldTour level. He was itching to take his first professional victory after training at altitude for the Giro d'Italia.
"When you’re used to winning, you're always searching for that, and finally it came here," he said.
"I knew it'd come one day, but not as soon as today. I still can't believe I won the stage. Winning here is good for the confidence going into the Giro. I know the shape is there, and now we just have to do things right."
Sivakov now hopes to defend the cyclamen-coloured leader's jersey in the final three stages at the Tour of the Alps. Wednesday's stage to Baselga di Pine is hilly but only 106km long, with a 134km stage in the apple orchards of the Val di Non on Thursday before the decisive 147km, two-climb, final stage to Bolzano on Friday.
"You can't control a short stage too much, so we needs to play our two cards," Sivakov explained. "It'll be fun to watch but hard for us. But we know that if Tao goes in the break, he can take the jersey back. As long as team wins, that is the main goal."