After an early success in the Vuelta a España 2018 then disappointment on stage 6, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) returned to the top of the race's sprinting hierarchy with a clear win in Bermillo de Sayago on Tuesday.
This was Viviani's second stage win of the Vuelta a España and his 17th in this season for Quick-Step Floors. Coming just a few hours after teammate Julian Alaphilippe's success in the Tour of Britain, the two wins further underline the Belgian squad's outstanding season, with 60 victories to date.
Nor were the team lacking in serious rivals as the Vuelta made a rare incursion onto the flatlands of Spain's far west. Bora-Hansgrohe launched a two-pronged attack for the stage, first with Lukas Postlberger making one of his late solo charges for the line as he had done to such spectacular effect in the 2017 Giro's opening stage on Sardinia.
But that move, whilst impressive, failed to shatter Quick-Step's solid grasp on the sprint finale. Then although Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) did his utmost to beat Viviani, he had to settle for his third second place of this year's Vuelta, as well as the consolation of the points jersey lead. But if seeing Sagan in a green points jersey is hardly an unfamiliar sight, Viviani raising his arms in victory in Spain is becoming increasingly the norm, too.
Just as he had done after the stage 3 victory, which featured hillier terrain before the finish itself, when explaining his latest Vuelta win, Viviani played down the personal challenges of the bunch sprint itself.
Rather, he said, his victory on stage 10 had come after a perfect lead-out, on top of which - and perhaps most importantly on an individual level - he had had to make a considerable effort to stay in contact on the lone but long third-category climb that preceded it 30 kilometres before.
"The main part of today [came] when we were really in trouble on the climb because Bora-Hansgrohe made a high pace for Sagan," Viviani explained, "and in that moment we needed to stay together and try to stay in the first group. So we got over that climb but it was full gas in that part."
From then on, Viviani said, he tried to recover from the effort and then, with his energy levels a little depleted, do his best to make a perfectly calculated run-in with his lead-out train, because, he said, "Today that could really make the difference for me." His team duly delivered, placing Viviani exactly where he needed to be to accelerate hard down the left-hand side of the finishing straight, and the win was all but in the bag.
For Quick-Step Floors, too, the latest Vuelta a España victory deflates any pressure the team might have felt after their Vuelta sprint train came unstuck in a roundabout at San Javier last week.
"We had made mistakes where we lost the stages," Viviani said. "But my guys did the perfect job here, as you see, they managed the last two ks perfectly with guys like [Laurens] De Plus, [Pieter] Serry, [Dries] Devenyns.
"They are not proper experts in lead-outs, but today they did a really amazing job and then Michael [Morkov] and Saba [Fabio Sabatini] did a really good job in the final when Postlberger went.
"Michael was keeping calm, waited and then kept him [Postlberger] as a point to follow in the last 500 metres. So I think that was the right choice we did to end a perfect lead-out.
"It was," he concluded expansively, "one of the most perfect lead-outs in all the season."
Perhaps that's something of an over-exaggeration. But after seeing the latest result, perhaps not.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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