Elia Viviani (Sky) did little to hide his disappointment at the manner in which he missed out on Omnium gold at the Track World Championships in London earlier this month, and his mood can hardly have lightened when he reported back for road duty at Tirreno-Adriatico only to find the man who claimed the rainbow jersey, Fernando Gaviria, still standing in his way.
“I lost a really close last sprint at the Track Worlds and that stayed in my head these past few weeks. You don’t forget that in a day or a week. And the road races haven’t helped me – when you go to Tirreno and Gaviria beats you by two bike lengths, for sure it’s not the best thing that you want,” Viviani told reporters in Oostduinkerke on Wednesday after winning stage 2 of the Three Days of De Panne.
“Last night I arrived at a point and said ‘Either I react, or I stop the first part of my season now and come back for Giro d’Italia.’ And well, I think I reacted really, really well.”
The second stage of the Three Days of De Panne, which takes the peloton from the Flemish Ardennes back to the North Sea coast, traditionally offers the sprinters an opportunity to show their wares. Most observers had the stage billed as a duel between Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and race leader Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), but they had to make do with second and third, respectively, behind Viviani.
“This win was very important for me, and when you win ahead of two champions like that, it adds value to my win for sure,” Viviani said. “It comes at a time when I wasn’t on top form, my head was down because the results weren’t coming.
“I really needed to take a win in this moment because after Track Worlds I didn’t get the results I needed in Tirreno, in San Remo, in Gent-Wevelgem – the races where I want to do well in the next few years.”
Viviani’s Sky teammates were to the fore on the finishing circuit in Oostduinkerke, and he picked out his last man Andy Fenn for particular praise. “I believe in this guy: he put me on Kittel’s wheel before the last corner,” Viviani said. Facing into a head-crosswind in the finishing straight, the Italian looked to wait as long as possible before coming off Kittel’s wheel.
“I saw Katusha coming up with Kristoff but I waited and waited. Then with 125m to go, I said ‘Ok, if I want to pass Kittel, I need to go now.’ I started with 53x12 and then I put it in the 11 for the last 50 metres to take more speed.”
Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix
Viviani’s name did not feature in the Tour of Flanders line-up that Team Sky released during Wednesday’s stage, and in this corner of the world, where the Ronde trumps all, local reporters perhaps expected a barbed response to that omission from the Italian.
“No, I’m not disappointed not to be in the team for the Tour of Flanders,” Viviani said. “I’m not in really, really good condition. I did a perfect sprint today, but yesterday night I was in a bad condition with my head and with the legs.
“Only yesterday when I spoke with Rod [Ellingworth] and the team, I said I’d prefer to take some rest days if they had someone who could do a better job than me, because it’s been a busy period for me.”
The Omnium at the 2016 Rio Olympics is, of course, the centrepiece of Viviani’s season, but his spring campaign is not without ancillary targets. After falling short at Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem, Viviani will target Scheldeprijs and make his Paris-Roubaix debut, before taking a break from racing in the lead-up to the Giro. “That’s another reason not to do Flanders, so I’ll be more ready for Scheldeprijs and Roubaix,” he said.
As his press conference wound down, Viviani was asked to pick the winner of the Tour of Flanders. After the obligatory diplomatic paean to the strength of his Sky team and Michal Kwiatkowski in particular, he described how Alexander Kristoff had impressed many of his peers in winning the opening stage of De Panne on Tuesday.
“After yesterday, I think Kristoff will win,” he said. “Kristoff yesterday was unbelievable. We did a really hard day on the bike yesterday, one of the strongest in my life. So Kristoff won a really, really good stage yesterday. He was impressive.”