Elia Viviani was so keen to kick off his 2017 season with an early victory that he asked for special dispensation from Team Sky to race the Vuelta a San Juan in the colours of the Italian national team. However he he was left scratching his head after Monday's opening stage, where he was comfortably beaten by Fernando Gaviria, the rider he describes as a 'phenomenon'.
Viviani may have got the better of the Colombian at the Olympic Games to win Omnium gold on the track, but the roles were reversed at the last two Track World Championships and he remembers being beaten on the road last year – in Gaviria's first season as a professional – at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Poland.
As such, Gaviria was the rider he most feared coming into the Vuelta a San Juan, and those fears were borne out on Monday as he was never able to emerge from the 22-year-old's slipstream.
"Gaviria is a phenomenon," Viviani told Cyclingnews in San Juan. "He's one of the most talented riders in the peloton."
"It's too early to say if he is the new Sagan, and what exactly his characteristics are, but you see guys that have to do an awful lot to win, and guys who simply have talent in the legs, and Gaviria belongs to the latter."
"He won two Worlds titles on the track through sheer talent and power in the legs. He wasn't riding particularly tactically; he simply had more legs than the other guys. Also you saw after one week he won in Tirreno-Adriatico he won easily, and he could have won Milan-San Remo if he hadn't crashed."
The finale of the opening stage in San Juan was disrupted by the peloton heading in two different directions with less than two kilometres to go. The route was modified by organisers at the last minute, but they failed to hand out modified road books.
Viviani found himself up front, but the Italian, always honest and unflinching in his post-race appraisals, conceded he simply couldn't compete – neither with Gaviria on a personal level nor with his Quick-Step team.
"Quick-Step did a perfect job – Boonen did a perfect lead-out," he said.
"I don't have Gaviria legs at the moment. He started with 200 metres to go and I could only stay on the wheel to get second. I also had to close a gap after the double right-hand corner because there was a gap to get to his train, but Gaviria at the moment, like at the start of last season, has unbelievable legs."
There are, on paper, four more sprint opportunities left in the race, and Viviani may well be hoping that rumours of Quick-Step mixing things up – trying for a win with Boonen and maybe later Max Richeze – are well founded.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.