Cofidis have completed the signing of Elia Viviani, taking the Italian sprinter from Deceuninck-QuickStep, where he has flourished in the past two seasons. The French team have also signed one of Viviani's lead-out men, Fabio Sabatini.
Viviani confirmed during the Tour de France that he would leave Deceuninck-QuickStep at the end of the season, and was heavily linked with a move to Cofidis.
The French team, managed by Cedric Vasseur, currently operate in the second-division Pro Continental ranks, but are determined to move up to WorldTour level, and Viviani represents a marquee signing and statement of intent.
The 30-year-old Italian has established himself as one of the world's top sprinters since he left Team Sky for QuickStep in 2018. With a dedicated lead-out train, he won 18 races in 2018, including four stages at the Giro d'Italia and three at the Vuelta a España, and has won eight times so far in 2019, including a stage at the Tour de France and the recent RideLondon Classic.
While Viviani's number-one lead-out man Michael Morkov will remain at Deceuninck-QuickStep, Cofidis have sought to support Viviani with the signing of Sabatini, 34, who was reunited with Viviani at QuickStep after an earlier partnership at Liquigas.
"Talking to Cedric Vasseur and Roberto Damiani [sport director], I noted the extent to which Cofidis wanted to recruit me and propose an ambitious project," Viviani said. "I very much appreciate the willingness to create a dynamic around me and the confidence placed in me through the arrive of my friend Fabio. The Cofidis jersey is among the most historic in the peloton and it's a source of pride to wear it.
"In terms of my objectives for next season, even if I won a stage this year, I really want to win more at the Tour de France next year. I have the feeling I can win more. As for the Classics, there are two races which I dream of winning: Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem. They'll be my principal objectives with Cofidis next season."
Viviani's programme will depend on Cofidis' status next year. They have applied for a WorldTour licence for 2020 but will only receive one if they finish 2019 as one of the top 18 teams on the UCI's World Ranking. As a Pro Continental team, Cofidis do not receive automatic invitations to Grand Tours or Monuments but are regular invitees to both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, along with Milan-San Remo.
The transfer sees Cofidis move away from Nacer Bouhanni, who joined the team on a big contract in 2015 but who has found himself increasingly marginalised since Vasseur took over in 2018. As for Deceuninck-QuickStep, they have lost their lead sprinter and Patrick Lefevere will have to juggle once more, as he did when losing Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and Fernando Gaviria in recent years. Alvaro Hodeg and Fabio Jakobsen are two young sprinters who can step up, while the team have been linked with Bora-Hansgrohe's Sam Bennett, who has won eight times this year but hasn't had the opportunity to ride a Grand Tour.
by Daniel Benson
Cedric Vasseur made an approach for Viviani back in the tail end of 2018 when it became evident that his old boss at QuickStep – Patrick Lefevere – was struggling for funds. With Fernando Gaviria shipped out of the Belgian team last season for that very reason, and Julian Alaphilippe and Viviani both out of contract at the end of 2019, it was only a matter of time before one of those riders became a viable option on the transfer market.
When Lefevere re-signed Alaphilippe to a new deal on the eve of the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, Vasseur made his move. He travelled to Monaco and met with both Viviani and his agent Giovanni Lombardi. The Frenchman proposed a two-year deal and emphasized that the squad could provide a strong lead-out train. At the same time, Vasseur cleared up any confusion and confirmed that Nacer Bouhanni would not be on the team for 2020.
During the summer, although Viviani privately held out hope for a new deal from Lefevere, it became clear that Cofidis was his best and only major option. His request to bring Fabio Sabatini with him - along with Viviani's younger brother who will join as a stagiaire for the remainder of 2019 with the option of a pro deal next year – were both met. Vasseur was also open to the idea of supporting Viviani's bid to retain his Olympic Omnium title at the Tokyo Games next summer.
The signing of Viviani helps bring Cofidis closer to the WorldTour and with one or two more signings set to be announced in the coming days, they have a brighter future.