Viviani makes smooth transition to cobbles at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne
Italian takes third place a week after Track Worlds
From the smooth boards of the velodrome in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to the rough and tumble of the cobbles of the Oude Kwaremont, Elia Viviani (Sky) scarcely missed a beat as he resumed his road duties at Belgium's Opening Weekend after claiming a brace of medals at the Track World Championships in Paris only last week.
The Italian acted in a supporting role for Ian Stannard in his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory on Saturday afternoon before lining out as his team's leading man at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday. Viviani lived up to that billing in the eventual bunch sprint in Kuurne, placing third behind Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), although he was not without regrets at how events had unfolded.
"Unfortunately we started a bit too far back when it came to the sprint, but then Luke [Rowe] did great work to bring me back up to Cav," Viviani told Cyclingnews as he soft-pedalled back towards the podium area after the finish. "But Cav went just as I got back up to him and that was it. But I still finished third after coming from 20 positions back."
Viviani was one of the happy few to get the better of Cavendish so far this season when he defeated him at the Dubai Tour, and he impressed by making up ground on the Manxman and Kristoff in the final 50 metres here, even if he never truly looked like overhauling them.
Tellingly, all three podium finishers were also part of an elite selection of 19 riders that formed over the top of the Kwaremont with 70 kilometres still to race after jousting from Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) sparked a reaction.
Cavendish had four QuickStep teammates around him in that move and was able to refrain from taking turns on the front. Viviani, with just Stannard for company, found himself pressed into duty more often than he might have liked.
"I had to ride a bit when I was in that group because I only had Ian with me so we had to collaborate. But QuickStep were clearly the strongest team today and they won, so you can only congratulate them for that," he said. "It's just a pity that the attack on the Kwaremont didn't go all the way to the end because it would certainly have been a lot easier to line up the sprint."
Viviani arrived at the Track Worlds aiming to become Italy's first male gold medallist since 1997. Although he fell just short, he had the consolation of claiming silver in the Madison with Marco Coledan, while his bronze medal in the Omnium has all but secured his qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
For now, Viviani's focus is very much on the road, with his first Classics campaign in the black of Team Sky on the horizon. Milan-San Remo is just three weeks away, though Viviani will be particularly hopeful that his display on the pavé here is an augury for what he might achieve at Gent-Wevelgem the following Sunday.
"It's certainly a good sign for what's to come for me. Already next week I've got some important races coming up in Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, and then other objectives to come in the Classics," Viviani said. "I'm ready."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.