When Elia Viviani claimed the maiden Giro d'Italia stage victory of his career on the opening weekend in Genoa in 2015, he could hardly have expected to have to wait another three years to add to his tally, but then the Italian, winner of stage 2 in Tel Aviv on Saturday, has followed roads less travelled in the period since.
In 2016, Viviani raced the Corsa Rosa with one eye already firmly fixed on the Olympic Games, and he finished outside the time limit on stage 8, a setback long forgotten by the time he stood atop the podium in Rio with the Omnium gold medal around his neck three months later.
Viviani's Giro disappointment from a year ago was rather more lasting, however, as he was deemed surplus to requirements in a Team Sky line-up built around the doomed overall aspirations of Mikel Landa and Geraint Thomas.
Rumours soon abounded that Viviani would seek to dissolve his contract with Sky a year early, and the reports gathered greater urgency when Chris Froome's decision to ride the Vuelta a España meant that he was bumped from the roster for the Spanish race to boot. By mid-August, Viviani had agreed terms with Quick-Step Floors.
"Being kept home from the Giro last year certainly wasn't a good moment, especially as since the Olympics, I had been focused 100 per cent on the road," Viviani said in Tel Aviv on Saturday. "That was the first point I considered leaving the team, and then, later on, with Froome doing other Grand Tours, it meant that I could miss out on going to the Giro again, so I looked to find a mutual agreement with the team to dissolve my contract."
While Sky's devotion to overall victory in the Grand Tours has undoubtedly stymied the development of some riders in the set-up over the years, curiously few have succeeded in finding success on leaving for pastures new. Viviani, who has already won seven races this year in Quick-Step blue, is a rare exception to that rule, though he was at pains to stress that his departure from Sky had not been a rancorous one.
"I have no regrets about being at Sky for three years, because I'm not sure I would have won the Olympics if I hadn't gone there," Viviani said. "I still have a very good relationship with Dave Brailsford and everybody on the team."
Despite a seamless transition to life at the sharp end of Marcel Kittel's old lead-out train, the abiding image of Viviani's fine spring campaign was his dismay at the end of Gent-Wevelgem, when he sat in tears in the gutter of Vanackerestraat after being beaten into second place by Peter Sagan.
"Gent-Wevelgem was my last objective of the first part of the season, and the end of my period of form, and after surviving such to the end, it was a big disappointment to lose it right at the end,” Viviani admitted. "But I'm the kind of person who sees the glass as being half full, and, in the end, it was easier to lose to Peter than to someone else, because we all know how good he is. If you make one mistake against him, you lose, and that's what happened."
The Belgian Classic was Viviani's last race for over a month, but rather than dwell on that disappointment, he used the time out to recalibrate for a Giro d'Italia in which he is, on 2018 form, the marquee sprinter.
"I suffered a lot in Romandie last week, but I knew I needed that race to get me right before the Giro," said Viviani, who set out from Haifa on Saturday morning as the overwhelming favourite for stage victory. "In interviews at the start, I said I was calm, but I wasn't really."
Viviani was well marshalled by his Quick-Step squad in the finale, but still had to make up considerable ground in the finishing straight on Jakub Mareczko (Wilier-Selle Italia) – revenge, perhaps, for their duel as part of the Italian selection at the Tour de San Luis in 2016.
"When you take a stage win this early in the Giro, it takes away about 80 per cent of the pressure. It's really important to get off on the right foot," said Viviani. The Italian carries the maglia ciclamino into stage 3, and the points classification is an avowed objective on this Giro. "It's a secondary target, but if I can win more stages, that obviously helps towards it, though I'll need to pick up points ahead of the mountains."
With that in mind, Viviani contested the second intermediate sprint in Caesarea, though he was surprisingly beaten to the full complement of points by Rohan Dennis (BMC), who picked up enough bonus seconds to move into the pink jersey.
"I wanted some points, but I didn't really want to interfere in the fight for the pink jersey," Viviani said of his obviously tempered sprint. "But I was never going to sprint flat out with just 60km to go: I needed to save my legs for the finish."
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