In the middle of his journey from Siena to Bagno di Romagna on stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia, Elia Viviani found himself waiting for confirmation of news that had been in the air for the past couple of days.
The message was eventually relayed from the Italian Olympic Committee during the stage. The Omnium champion from Rio in 2016 will carry the flag for Italy at the opening ceremony of this year’s Tokyo Olympics, together with shooter Jessica Rossi.
“I was really emotional when I heard the news, I’m really proud,” Viviani said on RAI’s Processo alla Tappa programme after the stage. “We knew the choice was going to be made today, so when I was told during the stage it was a great feeling. It helped me enjoy the day in the hills despite all the climbing.
“It’s something really special and so very different to winning a race but it still makes me so happy. I’ll really enjoy it and remember for the rest of my life. It makes me realise I’m a role model athlete for the Italian Olympic team. Now I can’t wait to be given the flag and take it to Tokyo.”
Viviani will return to compete for the Omnium gold on the boards in Tokyo and it has been hard to shake off the impression that his second life on the track has sustained him through a trying 18-month period on the road where he struggled to see the wood for the trees. The 2020 season, his first since leaving QuickStep for Cofidis, went by without a single victory. His preparations for the 2021 campaign, meanwhile, were interrupted by atrial ablation surgery to treat a cardiac arrhythmia.
Although Viviani returned to competition at the UAE Tour in February and returned to the winner’s rostrum at Cholet Pays de la Loire in March, his exile from sprinting’s top table won’t truly end until he gets back to winning ways in a Grand Tour. So far on this Giro, Viviani has had to settle for a brace of third place finishes in Novara and Cattolica, as well as fourth place in Canale, where his frustration was evident in his exchange with fellow fast man Davide Cimolai at the finish.
On Friday afternoon, Viviani and the sprinters face what might well be their final opportunity of the Giro on a stage that doubles as a commemoration of two anniversaries: the 90th of the maglia rosa and the 700th of Dante Alighieri’s death. The stage passes through San Nicolò Po, home of the first man to wear the pink jersey, Learco Guerra, and it also links the cities of Dante’s exile, beginning in Ravenna and finishing in Verona.
The finale will mark a sort of homecoming for Viviani, a native of Isola della Scala, 20 kilometres south of Verona. The ‘Scala’ of his village’s name comes from the Della Scala family, who ruled Verona during Dante’s sojourn and whose heraldic symbol of the ladder (scala in Italian) is visible across the city to this day. Viviani is familiar with every inch of the run-in.
“I can’t wait for the stage to Verona because I also want to talk about winning a sprint,” Viviani said. “It’s a simple transfer stage but it’s long, at over 200km. We’ve got to be careful if there’s any wind, that could raise tension.
“The finale is fast, and we hit it via the railway bridge on the big wide road into town. The bridge launches you into Via Piave and then we dive around Porta Nuova before the finishing straight on Corso Porta Nuova. I think it’ll be the fastest finish of this year’s Giro d’Italia.”
Verona is an historic staple of the Giro route, but the corsa rosa’s previous visits during Viviani’s career have all been time trials, including the final stages in both 2010 and 2019. Friday’s finish on the Corso Porta is, in more ways than one, a final opportunity for Viviani.
“It’s the chance of a lifetime to win in my hometown. In the 11 years of my professional career, a stage of the Giro to Verona has never ended in a sprint,” said Viviani. “I want to enjoy it because I’ll be riding on home roads, but I’ll be focused and determined to win more than I’ve been in the last 18 months as I’ve chased victories. I want a big win. I think I deserve it.”
In other words, a chance to emerge again and see the stars.
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