Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) said before the 2018 Giro d'Italia that taking three stage wins and the points jersey in Rome would represent a dream race for him. So, with two stage victories already in the bank, and the points jersey securely on his back, the Italian sprinter must be pinching himself to check he is actually awake.
The Giro d'Italia is barely three days old, and there are nearly three weeks of racing still to come. But with such an impressive start, Viviani has already established himself as the Giro d'Italia sprinter to beat.
In stark contrast to his triumph in the centre of Tel Aviv on Saturday during stage 2, Viviani's second stage win came after the lengthy grind across the Negev desert on the Red Sea coastal resort town of Eilat on stage 3. It did not lack in controversy, as Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) moved sharply across the finishing straight, with Viviani swerving as a result. Viviani played down any chance of creating an early polemic in the Giro.
"As you saw on TV, he changed direction, and if this had cost me the sprint, I would have appealed to the judges. I was on the left, we always move around a little bit in sprints, but this was a clear move [by Bennett] towards the barrier," Viviani said afterwards.
Viviani remembered a similar move in the European Championships last year that he said cost him the race. At that race in Herning, Denmark, Alexander Kristoff squeezed him close to the barriers en route to victory but was not disqualified afterwards despite Viviani's protests.
Moving back to Eilat this May, Viviani added, "There was a point of contact, it was a moment where either I touched him, or I had to brake. So I moved a little bit, and then everything went fine."
Asked if he considered himself the fastest sprinter in the world right now, Viviani said, "I'm not thinking about my competitors. It's true that some of the best were there when I won earlier in the year, so that already says something in my favour.
"I will say I'm trying to get better and getting more mature as a racer, and stepping up this year meant I had the objective of winning Grand Tour stages and Classics.
"Six victories before coming here to the Giro was a good total, but there's always something more you can do. I was looking to come of age in the Giro, and I think I’ve done that.”
The possible absence of big sprint names in the Giro this year, he said, was not relevant. "I don't care who's missing, this is the hardest of all three Grand Tours, and I have done them all. A lot of sprinters turn up here and then go home but this race is very important for me as a rider, and in particular as an Italian rider."
He repeated, "I’ve already faced many of them early in the year, and I won."
Despite the relative lack of pressure after having won one stage, as well as having a rough start to stage 2, Viviani argued that the build-up through stage 3 tipped the balance back towards his fighting for victory for a second day running.
"After yesterdays [Saturday] stage, we didn't celebrate a lot, but we did a bit, and then I didn't sleep well, maybe because after all the adrenaline of the build-up to a victory, sometimes when you lose that adrenaline all of a sudden it's actually harder to sleep.
"So I suffered a lot in the first two and a half hours of the stage, I was really tired. It was only when I had to go for it in the two intermediate sprints that things began to get better, as the adrenaline began to kick in again.
"People think that racing in the desert is always flat but today was a very undulating stage, with around 2,000 metres of vertical climbing. We were lucky with the weather because it wasn't as hot as we'd expected, but it was not an easy day, I heard over the radio some people got dropped, and at some points, it was very stressful on the front of the bunch.
"Only the last part was similar to Saturday, even if the speed was lower because the curves in the last kilometre broke up the pace in the front of the bunch. There was a strong wind, so I decided to leave my lead-out behind and follow either [Sam] Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) or [Sacha] Modolo (Team EF-Education First-Drapac) Then when Bennett went, I knew it was a long sprint. But I knew it was the right move to follow."
The next surefire opportunity for a bunch sprint is now five days away, on stage 7 to Praia da Mare. Stage 5, to Santa Ninfa, might see a mass dash for the line if the peloton doesn't split apart on a short 12 per cent ramp with about two kilometres to go. But with two victories already in the bag, come what may Viviani is already well ahead in the game.
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