Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has been the sprinter to beat over the last year, but he says that there was not much more that he could do to best Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) on the second stage of the UAE Tour.
Coming into the finishing straight, Viviani was tight on the wheel of Gaviria, moving out into the wind with just 100 metres remaining. In similar circumstances over the last 12 months, Viviani has easily passed his rivals but he did not have enough to get past the Colombian on this occasion.
"He was the strongest today, there is nothing that I can say because he did 200, more than 200 in front with a left headwind, but it was a headwind," Viviani told the press after the stage. "He was in the centre of the road and the only thing I could change in my sprint was to go on his right because the wind was coming from the left so I might have had more cover on the right, but in that moment, I was just thinking about going over him and go the closer way to the finish line and that was the left side.
"We know that his characteristics suit a long sprint, and compared to the other sprinters he can keep going when you are at his side. I jumped on him with 100 metres to go, but we do 100 head to head, and on the line he always had that half wheel in front. We know he's strong."
Viviani had a close-up view of UAE Team Emirates' new-look lead-out train with Alexander Kristoff playing the last man for Gaviria. Having the experience of slotting into a new train, Viviani was impressed with how quickly the team had got things working. Though, he said that even without the train it would have been tough to beat Gaviria.
"They have a good feeling in the sprint because it's never easy if you're in Kristoff's position to transform himself from leader to lead-out man," explained Viviani. "He has this characteristic because if you see the sprints that he wins they are always long sprints, so that is the perfect characteristic for the last man. Today, he worked really well. Gaviria didn't just win because of the lead-out, he won because of his legs. I was in his wheel and I couldn't pass him; that's the story from today."
Viviani and his team had plans on breaking up the race much earlier in the day, having experienced these conditions in the area from previous editions. With a little over 100km still to run, the winds swept across the peloton, and Deceuninck-QuickStep took their chance to put the hammer down. It was all going to plan until a crash forced Viviani to slow briefly, leaving him chasing down the group he had previously been a part of.
"We did it all ourselves," he said. "We did the attack because we had the experience from last year where the point was to attack. We did the attack, we split the group but in the first turn when we were going back into the line there was a crash and I was just out.
"I think it was someone touching wheels and one went straight to the right and he bumped Moscon, Moscon went down and I was just there. I had to brake and I lost the first group. I stopped the boys straight away, but we spent a lot of kilometres coming back. I was disappointed because probably it was a good attack to be there. Luckily, we could come back and we had a good plan for the finish."
Viviani denied that the lengthy chase had any impact on his sprint at the end of the race.
"In the crosswind, in the front they were doing a full effort," he said. "Behind we were going a full effort but we were really organised, so I don't think that it impacted on the sprint."