With an Olympic gold medal in his pocket, Elia Viviani now has his eyes set on his next big target: Milan-San Remo. The Italian has been working hard over the winter to readapt his body to the rigours of road racing and is fully focussed on the La Classicissima in 2017.
In his three previous appearances at the race, Viviani has been distanced in the finale and not featured in the final sprint, last year was his best result with 84th, but he believes that he can put any doubts to bed at this year's race.
"In the Olympic Games, I think that a lot of people around me didn't think that I could win the gold medal. Also for sure, some people can't believe that I can win San Remo but I want to prove I can," Viviani said at Team Sky's Mallorca training camp this week, in an English that mixes his Italian thoughts with Team Sky pragmatism.
"The most important thing is I think I can win, the team around me thinks that I can win. I might not win the first time I try, but I'm going to work day by day, take all the steps I need to take and to be ready for this day. Sometimes you can work a lot and you don't win. We have the bigger goal and now we work for that."
Viviani had originally been down to begin his 2017 race programme at the Tour Down Under but he and the team decided to start his season at the Dubai Tour to give him a few more sprinting possibilities. With that change in calendar, he requested the team allow him to race in Italian colours at the Tour de San Juan. The Dubai Tour will be followed by a block of training before the Abu Dhabi Tour, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and finally Milan-San Remo.
Viviani has been putting the hard miles in recent weeks to shed some of the muscle bulk that he built up in preparation for the Olympic Games. With Milan-San Remo just two months away he is including some longer stints on the bike to get used to the sheer distance of the Monument. Viviani has also been closely followed by his coach Rod Ellingworth, who the Italian thinks will help him take the step forward to achieve his biggest goals on the road.
"It is a passion for him," Viviani said of Ellingworth. "He was on the motorbike today and he followed me in all that I did because now we have together another big goal to win San Remo or to win a stage in the Giro d'Italia. Getting back to winning ten races in a year is the goal. It is what I want to do and it can make me really happy. I think that he can make the difference on this side."
"Last season I won less than any other. In my first year, I won three races and last year I only won two. Now I want to go back to winning a lot of races on the road in the Team Sky jersey and try to keep the best races in my mind, like Giro d'Italia stages or try to give myself a really big target like Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem or Plouay, all the classics for the sprinters. This is my goal for the next two years."
Making sacrifices again, thinking of Tokyo 2020
Targeting the track at the Olympic Games in 2016 meant that Viviani had to put aside almost all of his road ambitions, and following his abandon at the Giro d'Italia he did not race on the road again until after Rio. After putting so much of his time and emotion into a single, all-consuming, goal, it hasn't been easy for Viviani to reset himself and build up his motivation for the remainder of the season. Life had changed so quickly too as his star rose off the back of his success, with his phone ringing off the hook and strangers congratulating him in the street.
In the end, it was the World Championships in Doha that gave him the incentive to work hard again.
"Probably the bad moment to try and make sacrifices is right after the Olympics," he said. "It's not easy to stop and then prepare for the last part of the season. I did loads of long training to get the resistance back, and I was thinking, why am I doing this? I f*cking won a gold medal last week, why am I doing this? But then finally I thought, maybe this is a chance that I'll never have again, so I wanted to try."
Success at the World Championships wasn't forthcoming after Viviani cramped up just a few kilometres from the line, but, nevertheless, he had the hunger back for road racing. For the next two or three seasons, Viviani will put track racing aside as he looks to build his prowess on the road. The track is not gone and forgotten and come Tokyo 2020; he will be targeting a return to the boards. What event he does will depend on how things play out in the intervening years.
"If the Omnium stayed the same as the one that I won I think that I wouldn't come back to this Omnium because it is so stressful and I need to lose a lot of time to work," explained Viviani. "For sure, if this new omnium is there, then I will be back for Tokyo. If not, I have another motivation which is the team pursuit."
"For sure, the emotion and everything I got from an Olympic gold medal for sure I want to be back at Tokyo."