Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) rounded off his 2018 season in the best way possible, leaving the Vuelta a España with a third and final victory in Madrid to finish off what he categorically defined as his "best season ever".
A searing charge up the left-hand side of the slightly rising Paseo de la Castellana in central Madrid left Viviani with seven Grand Tour stage wins in his 2018 palmarès – four at the Giro d'Italia, three at this Vuelta – as well as the Cyclassics Hamburg one-day race, the points jersey at the Giro, the Italian national championships road race, a stage at the Tour Down Under, and a host of other, lesser victories.
Viviani was the only rider to win three stages at the Vuelta, although four riders – Rohan Dennis (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Ben King (Dimension Data) and Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot – won two apiece.
The Italian's last win in Madrid was by no means plain sailing, with Viviani losing contact with his lead-out train and opting instead to tell his teammates to ease back so that he wouldn't find himself too far out of contention.
The strategy worked perfectly and, in the process, Quick-Step rectified an error they had made when Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) won on stage six of the Vuelta, when the Belgian squad fluffed their lines in a roundabout late on. The lesson learned in record time, Viviani was able to come through on the left-hand side of the road for a hard-fought, but well-calculated, win.
"It was the kind of circuit" – a long, single line with just two big corners – "that meant it's not easy to stay together," Viviani said afterwards. "We were working together well but I lost contact with my teammates at two kilometres to go, and we didn't want to make the same mistakes as when Bouhanni won.
"So I sat on [Peter] Sagan's back wheel, although that proved to be pretty much impossible, and I went in on the left, squeezing through in the last 60 or 70 metres. I got through at the last moment possible."
Viviani had thought of continuing through to the Trofeo Marco Pantani next weekend, but has finally opted to call it a day after his victory in Madrid. He described 2018 as "my best season ever – one which I don't really have words to describe. There was a difficult patch around Milan-San Remo but, other than that, I'm really happy with how the season went.
"My thanks to the team for planning the year for me in the best way possible, and for all their support."
Even as he ends this season, Viviani said he was already – just a few minutes after finishing in Madrid – beginning to worry about how to repeat 2018 in 2019.
"I need to start working soon, to be sure I hit the ground running," he said. "This was one of my best years, but I hope there will be more like it in the future."