There was no sound to accompany the live race feed in the press room on stage 1 of the Tour Down Under, but in a sense that only made Elia Viviani's win all the more impressive. Without commentary, the room fell silent, eyes fixed to the monitor that lay on the floor as the Italian cut his way through the chaos and mayhem to take a win that displayed all his true skills as a world-class sprinter: silence and speed – a breathtaking combination to behold.
It may only have been stage 1 of the Tour Down Under, and against rusty opposition and lead-out trains still finding their rhythm, but Deceuninck-QuickStep's Viviani was nothing but exceptional. What made the sprint so beautiful was the fact that it looked effortless.
By the time the live television feed found its voice, and Viviani was on the podium, his weary opposition were scratching their heads as they made the long ride back to the centre of Adelaide. This could prove to be a long week for the other sprinters who came all this way from Europe, and Caleb Ewan, in particular, who was never in contention after a messy lead-out from his Lotto Soudal squad.
"It was a headwind sprint, and you don't want to be at the front too early," Viviani said as he greeted the gathering press after the podium celebrations.
At five kilometres to go, with a number of sprint trains already in full swing, Viviani was doing nothing more than ghosting from wheel to wheel towards the back of the bunch. His teammates were scattered, and it looked as though he might still be struggling after his crash in Sunday's criterium. Those who doubted the Italian should have known better.
As the kilometres passed, and the tension rose, Viviani found his verve, and while the opposition splintered and buckled in the heat, the Italian national champion moved closer and closer into contention. With the line in sight, but with a cross headwind to deal with, the 29-year-old showed incredible patience before cutting through on the lefthand side, between the barriers and Bahrain-Merida's Phil Bauhaus, before crossing the line first.
"It's never easy, and you just have to wait. If you go 50m too early, then you kill yourself," Viviani said. "In that moment, I saw the space on the left. If there wasn't space then I would not have tried, because I'm not crazy. I felt I could get through, and there was maybe a little touch with Bauhaus, but when I passed on the left, I felt it was a good move. When I went by him, I could just focus on the finish line."
Earlier in the week Viviani had stressed the importance of his lead-out train and their consistent ability to deliver him to the line when so many other teams flounder. After Tuesday's win, he again praised those around him, but admitted that under the calm exterior there had been an element of doubt and pressure coming into the race. He was human after all.
"It was a chaotic final, but the guys did a great job of putting me in the right position. It was a bit of a stressful winter because to repeat last season was never going to be easy, but at the same time I just focused on my training and my season. I wanted to put pressure on my lead-out train to do the perfect job, but they're the best group around me. It's never easy to win, but today was a good start to 2019," he said.
"We had bad luck two days ago in the criterium. We were in the right position but just had bad luck. Maybe we were too excited and Michael Mørkøv lost his front wheel in that moment. That can happen in a sprint, but we always need to be optimistic. The real season started today with the WorldTour. We're happy to take stage 1 and we're on track with last year if we go home with one stage. Now we'll try and do better.
"I really believe in my two guys," Viviani added. "I never panic. I really believe in Fabio Sabatini and Michael, and that in those situations we need to be calm. They found the space and the legs to bring me up. They have big responsibility on their shoulders. Our job is to win races, and sometimes we make mistakes, but I'm really proud of them."
There are several more stages in the Tour Down Under suited to the sprinters, and Ewan, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the rest of the sprinting collective will be eager to take wins before heading back to Europe. None want to come so far and leave Australia empty-handed.
"When you start the WorldTour with a stage win and the leader's jersey, it's the best way. Now we know we've done a good job over the winter," said Viviani. "Now the focus is to try to do our job better, and to try to do even better than last year."
Stage 2 from Norwood to Angaston will once again see the sprinters cross swords, and Viviani is expecting a response from his opposition. But after today's performance the Italian already has the momentum, and the question now is whether anyone can stop him.
"Sagan and Caleb are the strongest guys here. Tomorrow, it might be one of them. Tomorrow is not like Stirling [where Caleb Ewan won last year], but we've seen the course, and it goes slightly up [at the end in Angaston]. We saw how Simon Gerrans was able to beat Andre Griepel there a few years ago, so it's not an easy sprint.
"Danny Van Poppel [Team Jumbo-Visma] is another name for tomorrow. We'll try to control things, but we're relaxed after winning today. We know that tomorrow is another big chance, though," he said.
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