Viviani has replaced Kittel at Quick-Step Floors for 2018 and is hoping to secure similar success in the sprints. The 29-year-old is clearly benefitting from the speed, skill and expert lead-out of the Quick-Step Floors blue train but has stepped up himself too, working on his own sprinting ability and strike rate as he tries to take advantage of a career-changing opportunity.
The Italian has contested nine sprints with Quick-Step Floors during his intense early-season in Australia and Dubai, winning three and finishing in the top five on four other occasions. His two stage victories at the Dubai Tour and the huge effort he made to finish sixth on the stage up to Hatta Dam ensured he won the overall classification by 12 seconds, ahead of Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) and Hatta Dam winner Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
"Winning sprints is my job but with this team it's much easier. We've had a good start. Now we have to confirm in the biggest races, in the Classics and the Grand Tours," Viviani said.
"The main reason for these early season successes is the team and the planning process. I think we planned the season really well. I've been away from home since January 3 but I know I have to make sacrifices. Now I can enjoy a week at home and savour this success before thinking about bigger objectives such as Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo."
Viviani started the final stage with a lead of just two seconds on Cort. Together with Quick-Step Floors directeur sportif Brian Holm, he had considered all the possible outcomes and they were confident it would work out in their favour.
In the hectic final kilometres in downtown Dubai, the finale did go their way. Their strength as a team and the huge double effort of lead-out man Fabio Sabatini ensured that Viviani avoided the late crash and was then able to catch the riders up the road and sprint to victory.
"This morning I tried to stay relaxed, but now I can admit that I was very nervous, because my margin in the general classification was a slender one," Viviani explained.
"We didn't chase the break because the plan for the finale was to have all the team together and move up before the final corners. But everyone was strong in the tailwind. Sabatini had the intelligence to understand we needed to move up and made an extra effort before the last corner.
"We saw the crash but we were on the inside. Saba then did a big hard effort to try to close the gap. I was thinking a lot in the final metres. I was checking if someone from the GC fight was there because I was worried about going long if Cort Nielsen was on my wheel. When I saw there were 100 metres to go and saw the four guys just ahead of me, I gave it everything. I was hoping to win the GC but then I saw I was going at double their speed and so realised I could also win the stage. I think my experience on the track helped me too."
Viviani is a ruthless sprinter in the finale of race but he is also mild-mannered off the bike and incredibly humble. Despite starting the 2018 so well, he is convinced he still has work to do to join the likes of Cavendish, Kittel, André Greipel and Peter Sagan in the exclusive circle of big-name sprinters.
"I need to win bigger races to feel I'm one of the best sprinters," Viviani said modestly. "I want to win more than I've done so far. I'm not a pure sprinter but I want to be a sprinter who can win the Classics and stages in the Grand Tours. I want to take advantage of having a strong team and win as many stage as I can at the Giro, the Vuelta and the Tour in the next few years."
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