Stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia saw Cofidis sprinter Elia Viviani claim his first Grand Tour sprint podium finish in Novara with third behind Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-ASSOS). There is a cliche out there that for sprinters only finishing first matter, but this result surely represents a major much-needed boost to Viviani's morale.
The 32-year-old former European and National Road Champion has victories in all three Grand Tours in his palmares as well as a gold medal on the track in the 2016 Olympic Games and a host of one-day WorldTour wins.
However, a vicious circle of below-expectation results since then is proving very hard to break, Viviani has taken just one win since he joined Cofidis 15 months ago, in the lowkey GP Cholet this spring.
Third in Novara, then, was not only Viviani's best result in a Grand Tour since he took a string of top-three places and a win in the 2019 Tour de France. All this in a crucial season for the Italian, with the Olympic track events on his hit list for the summer as well.
The podium finish in Novara was thus the biggest recent indication that the Italian might be poised to regain momentum in his speciality, and in his biggest home race to boot.
"This result will have freed him up him psychologically, he needed that and so did the team," Cofidis team manager Cedric Vasseur told French Eurosport at the finish.
"Our Viviani leadout train worked perfectly. First, we had Nicolas Edet maintaining the tempo, then some magnificent work by Simone Consonni, who really did a great job."
Everything looked to be in place for Viviani to try for the win, but sitting behind Juan Sebastián Molano, the UAE lead-out man who ended up unintentionally blocking in his team leader Fernando Gaviria left the Italian out of the count for the victory, even if a top placing was still possible.
"Being on Molano's wheel, he couldn't get on terms with Merlier but he went hunting a third place and that's not at all a dishonourable result," Vasseur said.
According to Vasseur, Vivani's positioning behind Molano, whilst responsible for a negative outcome, nonetheless could not stop the Italian from putting on an impressive performance in the final metres, as witnessed by his third place.
"Elia has found himself blocked in a lot recently, but he wasn't blocked in this time and when he did finally sprint, he could show what kinds of speed he's got. However, he lost that speed at 150 metres to go because the UAE rider ahead of him hesitated. And even if you're only three or four kilometres an hour slower as was the case between him and [stage winner] Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), at that point in the game there's nothing to be done."
"He did the Tour de Romandie," where he finished well off the pace in the race's one full bunch sprint "as preparation, but the Giro is very close to his heart, and he wants to shine here.
"It's very encouraging, maybe tomorrow and above all for Wednesday. He tried everything, but you can't be even slightly out of line in a big event like this if you want to go for the win."
While Viviani is on the up, Cofidis have other irons in the fire for the Giro, Vasseur told Eurosport, with several young French riders also looking to make a name for themselves.
"We're expecting a lot of them. Victor Lafay and Remy Rochas have total freedom to go for it in the breaks, Nans Peters [AG2R] got a nice win like that a few years back.," when the Frenchman won from a solo breakaway ahead of the favourites.
"That's the kind of thing we'd love to see them try and maybe too [veteran] Nicolas Edet," Vasseur said.
"Once we get a bit more of a hierarchy in the GC, it'll be up to us to seize those opportunities and above all, not to rule anything out."
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