The 26-year-old Italian from Verona has developed and improved significantly after moving to Team Sky, benefitting from having clearer objectives and a better support and lead out from his teammates.
He has won nine races this season, including his first ever stage at the Giro d’Italia. He won a stage at the Dubai Tour in February, beating Mark Cavendish, and had an excellent end to the season by winning three stages at the Tour of Britain. In Abu Dhabi he beat fellow Italian Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), who was desperately trying to win a stage in his new world champion’s rainbow jersey.
Viviani was Italy’s protected sprinter for the World Championships in Richmond because of his ability to also survive in moderately hilly races. Sagan’s last-lap attack destroyed Viviani’s hopes at even a medal in Richmond, but he rightly claimed a leadership role for the 2016 World Championships on the flat roads of Qatar.
“We were hoping to finish the season with 10 victories, but we messed up the first stage here in Abu Dhabi. It’s not a problem though, nine wins is still good. This year I feel I’ve really improved at Team Sky. We decided what were the big appointments, my best objectives, and prepared for them in the best way,” Viviani explained to Cyclingnews in English in Abu Dhabi, a further sign that he has fitted in smoothly at the British team.
“I’ve improved in the sprints and feel I’m competitive against the big sprinters in the world. My development has happened step by step, but Team Sky has been a big help and a big factor this year. I found some new motivation and had lots of strong teammates around me. Now I need to make another step up so I can aim for the Classics. With the right focus and build up, I don’t think Classics like Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, Hamburg and the GP Plouay are out of reach.”
While most riders ended their season at the Abu Dhabi and were looking forward to holidays and time away from their bikes, Viviani will switch to the track and ride the European Championships in Grenchen, Switzerland, and then the first round of the track World Cup. He is chasing qualification points to secure his place in the Omnium at next year’s Olympic Games. He missed out on a medal in the last event of the Omnium in the London 2012 Olympic Games and is convinced he can do better four years on thanks to combining his professional road career with track racing.
“I needed to stay focused for another 20 days because it’s important to score some points for Olympic qualification. The track will be important in the summer but I also hope to have a good road season,” he explained.
"I’ll have a good holiday later afterwards, and I’m going to Rio with Elena (fellow professional rider, and girlfriend, Elena Checchini). We won’t take our bikes and so it will be a real holiday. I’ll start training again in late November.”
Viviani is modest and level-headed compared to many of his sprint rivals, but he is also determined and is not afraid to fight for a wheel or position in a high-speed sprint finish. He occasionally uses his track skills to nudge away rivals who want to take a good wheel and knows how to position himself in the final kilometre and pick the right wheels in an instant.
When asked if he thinks he is the fastest Italian sprinter in the peloton, his reply is blunt but full of self-confidence, knowing that it implicitly means a call for a leadership role in the Italian team in Qatar next October.
“Yes, I think I am,” he said.
“I feel I can finish it off now, when I go into a big race on form. I feel I’ve really improved in the sprint. When I go to races and see the start list, I know that if I have good condition, I’m not afraid of any of the other sprinters.”
Of course, Viviani is aware of the complexity of securing a leadership role in the Italian Squadra. He has the support of current national coach Davide Cassani but knows bringing together trade team rivals and riders with personal ambitions of their own is never easy, especially in Italy.
“Qatar is a big focus for me in 2016. But you need good and strong riders to work for it all together,” he said, perhaps hinting that things weren’t quite right this year inside the Italian team in Richmond.
“It’s not easy because the riders that create the national team come from different trade teams. We’ll need a good group and a good lead out for Qatar. It’ll have to be perfect, but there’s no real reason why we can’t win the world title.”