Elia Viviani was in a state of pure joy and huge relief in the seconds after winning the Tour de France sprint in Nancy, the pressure to win for Deceuninck-QuickStep falling away and the conviction that he is one of the world's best sprinters confirmed yet again.
Viviani had won 73 races before the high-speed sprint into Nancy and an Olympic gold medal on the track in Rio, yet he had still to win a sprint at the Tour de France. He accepted he made a mistake in the opening sprint in Brussels by losing the wheel of his lead-out train in the hectic finale but made sure he didn't make the same mistake on Tuesday.
"A Tour stage was the only win I was missing, now I've got it," Viviani said happily.
"I had a Giro win and one in the Vuelta, so this was the big goal of the season. I'm really happy and I'm emotional. All the work you do pays off with one win like this one. I'd never imagined I'd win a stage at the Tour de France when I was boy. I feel at the very top now."
Viviani dedicated his first Tour de France victory to his partner and fellow pro rider Elena Cecchini and his parents who were in Nancy to see their son win. In the seconds after his victory, as the emotions of it were very visible, he hugged his teammates and race leader Julian Alaphilippe, who played his part in the lead-out by taking a huge pull in the final kilometre.
Viviani rightly singled out his lead-out men: Michael Morkov and Max Richeze, who used their skills, sixth sense and speed to set up Viviani and guide him through the hectic and technical final three kilometres in central Nancy.
"I have a strong team around me who believes so much in me and they delivered a perfect lead-out. 90% of this win was the merit of the team. Did you see the yellow jersey go when Mørkøv called him into position? That was important and for me so special to see the yellow jersey do it," Viviani said of his teammates.
"Julian's great ride yesterday and him taking the yellow jersey really switched on the team. it gave us the edge. We didn't win in Belgium, we missed out on the first stage, which was totally my fault because I lost the wheel of my lead-out. But now were back!"
"Michael (Morkov) is the guy because he makes the decision in my lead, so I trust him 200 per cent. Today I told him to keep the lead and not let anyone come over us. He's got the experience, speed and powering in the legs. When he goes, he knows what he's doing and that he's got Max and me behind him. That's a big responsibility but he's a great lead-out."
This is just the start
Viviani now wants more stage wins, he is not satisfied with just one, even if he knows he will have to play a team role in the next two mountain stages and pay Alaphilippe back by helping to defend the yellow jersey. The green jersey could become a goal if Peter Sagan struggles and Viviani wins two or three stages and scores a haul of points.
"I hope this is only the start. I saw my error on the first stage, I lost the wheel of Max and so lost the chance to get in the yellow jersey, but you learn from your mistakes. I wasn't aggressive enough, and it was a hard finish, and that was all-important me for this win," Viviani said.
"I hope there's more to come, there's a lot of racing to come. I want to go all the way to Paris and why not win there too. There's nothing wrong with thinking big. My next stage is stage 7, but we've got to also defend Julian Alaphilippe's yellow jersey, so they're going to be special but painful days."
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