Elia Viviani (Team Sky) was unable to come past Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) in the high-speed sprint finish at Scheldeprijs, but he tried to cancel the bitter taste of defeat with the knowledge that he had again shown he is competitive with the best sprinters in the world.
Scheldeprijs is one of the true sprinters' Classics of the spring, and Viviani beat Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe) in the fast sprint. Only Kittel had been better-placed and faster in sight of the line, taking his fifth victory in the mid-week Belgian race.
"I’m never happy to finish second, because it's also my sixth second place the season and a lot of time they were behind the guys from Quick-Step. It means they’ve got some super strong sprinters. All we can do is keep trying to beat them," Viviani said defiantly after the podium ceremony.
"This second place at Scheldeprijs hurts a little less than the others because this is a real sprinter’s classic and it was a fast finish after 200km of racing."
Viviani stayed well protected on the wheels for most of the race, only moving up close to the front in the final 10 kilometres, with Team Sky hitting the front after Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) did a long turn as he completed his last race on Flemish soil. Being at the front helped Viviani avoid the late crash and the subsequent split.
Team Sky's Jon Dibben lead out the sprint, with Viviani tucked on Kittel’s wheel. If the German had gone wide on the gradual curving finish, Viviani could have had a chance, but the German’s experience has taught him that the inside line is vital to victory.
"The sprint was a little strange after the crash. Quick-Step Floors didn’t have many men, they must have lost Sabatini, so Trentin controlled things for them," Viviani explained.
"I used my leadout man Jon Dibben because we were well placed and lined out after the other Team Sky guys did a good job in the finale.
"Kittel lead out the sprint from 200 metres out, and I was on his wheel but unable to come around him, so I can only congratulate him, so the best sprinter won today."
A sprinter's race programme, not the Classics
Viviani was hoping to be part of Team Sky’s Classics programme this spring as he focuses 100 per cent on the road after his Olympic success in the Omnium on the track. However, he has been given a sprinter’s programme, riding the Vuelta San Juan, the Dubai Tour, the Abu Dhabi Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali before only a brief trip to Belgium for Scheldeprijs.
He has notched up his string of second places but has so far failed to land a win. The only consolations are his series of placings and the conviction he can be competitive in big sprint finishes.
"I finished ninth at Milan-San Remo and that result means little to a sprinter, but it was important to me," he pointed out.
"Some people still think I’m just a track sprinter but I knew I could have a shot at victory at Milan-San Remo and in other big bunch sprints, so I’m happy. I think I’m back to my best on the road."
Viviani will have to watch Paris-Roubaix from the sofa at home in Italy, but he is already looking forward to the start of the Giro d’Italia in 30 days time. He won his one and only stage at the Giro d’Italia in 2015 and is determined to win more this year.
"I’ve got this weekend off and then I’ll start preparing for the Giro d’Italia. I’m riding the Tour de Romandie too, so I’m going to be busy enough," he said.