Elia Viviani (Team Sky) has a record of success in the US, having won three stages at the former USA Pro Challenge in Colorado and even winning the overall at the tiny three-stage Tour of Elk Grove in 2013. But the Italian sprint specialist who won gold on the track at the 2016 Rio Olympics has never tasted personal victory at the now-WorldTour race in California.
"I have good memories of US racing," Viviani said ahead of Sunday's Tour of California start on Sunday in Sacramento. "I won a few stages at the US Pro Challenge [stage 4 in 2014, stages 4 and 5 in 2011 – ed.]. I do Tour of California just once before during my first year as a pro in 2010, and we won two stages with [Peter] Sagan. I was on Cannondale then, and I really enjoyed that."
Viviani wants to see the view from the top step of the California podium this year, and he has multiple opportunities to make that happen during the seven-day race.
"After a few second place finishes, last week I win in Romandie, so the shape is good," he said. "I have never won at the Tour of California, so I hope this is a good chance to get the first."
Team Sky has a strong roster in California, including Ian Boswell for the general classification and a strong leadout for Viviani in the sprints.
"Owain Doull, John Dibben, Danny van Poppel and Pete Kennaugh is a really good leadout, probably the best leadout I can have with Team Sky," Viviani said. "We are on for the sprints, and we have Boswell for the GC. So we will see during the week, but at the moment we are really focused on stage 1."
The opening day is tailor-made for the sprinters, with 156km of flat racing leading into three finishing circuits in downtown Sacramento. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) won on a similar course in Sacramento on the final day last year, and it's almost certain to end in a bunch sprint again.
Olympic gold and a change of focus
Viviani achieved his long-term goal of winning Olympic gold at the Rio Olympics last year when he won the omnium ahead of Cavendish and Lasse Norman Hansen. He said this week that the Olympic performance has had a profound effect on his life, especially with recognition within his home country.
"In Italy, in all the country, we won only eight gold medals, so I am one of these eight gold," he said. "When you win one normal cycling race, all the fans they know you because they are fans of cycling. But at the Olympics when you win, all of Italy is behind you to be a fan of the Italian rider or the Italian athlete, so this makes a big difference."
With the gold medal accomplishment under his belt, the 28-year-old is now turning his focus wholly to the road. He said this is the first season as a professional when he will not race on the track.
"After the Olympics, for sure my life changed, also in my head," he said. "You know if you take a really big goal, then you are ready to put another level up on your career. The next one is to win a lot on the road, and that is what I want to do in the next few years."
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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