Elia Viviani (Cofidis) ended an 18-month spell without victory on Sunday, winning the Cholet-Pays de la Loire one-day race in France.
The Italian sprinter had not won since taking a stage at the Okolo Slovenska in September 2019, when he was still with Deceuninck-QuickStep. He left for Cofidis in 2020 after securing a more lucrative contract but last year was disrupted by crashes, misfortune, and the lack of a well-oiled lead-out train that had helped him win so many times with the Belgian team.
At the start of 2021, Viviani was diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia and subsequent ablation surgery forced him to spend three weeks off the bike. He returned to racing at the UAE Tour and seemed to be improving with a series of placings but then struggled at Tirreno-Adriatico and was off the pace at Milan-San Remo.
He wanted to race Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday but the Cofidis team overruled him and named Christophe Laporte as team leader, sending Viviani to Cholet in the hope that victory would boost his and the team’s morale.
Cofidis worked hard to control the French race and Viviani was well placed to win the sprint as Nacer Bouhanni (Akrea-Sasmic) pushed Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) into the barriers. It was Viviani’s 79th career win.
"I’ve finally got a win. I’m happy because I and the team needed it," Viviani said.
"It’s a liberation to finally have won. Now I want to keep up this sense of optimism for the next few races. I want to thank the team for keeping their faith in me.
"A race like this should be normal for me and the team. The team did a great job in the lead-out for the sprint. Emmanuel (Morin) and 'Saba' (Fabio Sabatini) were great in the finale. Now we’ve got to keep this momentum rolling."
Viviani has struggled to integrate perfectly at Cofidis despite the presence of trusted lead-out man Sabatini, fellow track rider Simone Consonni and Italian directeur sportif Roberto Damiani. But he has avoided conflict within the team and tried to find his form.
"The important thing is not to panic and rush things when the wins don’t come, even if it’s never easy," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I needed to race, that’s the best way to get back to form and to success. I don’t know if it was the right decision not to send me to Gent-Wevelgem; there’s no proof that I couldn’t have done well there too."
Viviani heads to Belgium this week for Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen. He is not expected to ride the Tour of Flanders but will ride Scheldeprijs before then turning his thoughts to preparing for the Giro d’Italia.
He is expected to use the Italian Grand Tour to lay the foundations for the Tokyo Olympic Games. He won a gold medal in the Omnium in Rio in 2016. He is considered the leader of the Italian track squad and is expected to be part of the team pursuit quartet and ride the Madison with Consonni.
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