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Gaviria matches Sagan in brilliant grand tour debut

REGGIO EMILIA, Italy (VN) — What a debut it’s been for Fernando Gaviria, who is emerging as a new force in bunch sprints.

The Colombian burst to his third stage victory in his grand tour debut at the 2017 Giro d’Italia in Thursday’s long transition stage across northern Italy.

“It would be a lie to say I expected this in my first grand tour,” Gaviria, 22, said. “OK, in your first grand tour, to win one stage, maybe even with a bit of luck. But to win three? That’s something important.”

Quick-Step’s Gaviria came into this Giro hoping to win at least one stage. With three already in his pocket, he’ll have one more chance in Friday’s flat stage before the mountains. Despite not having any more sprint chances, he will try to make it all the way to Milan to win the points jersey.

How does Gaviria’s debut stack up against the latest crop of sprinters? Very well.

Only Peter Sagan — who won three stages in his grand tour debut at the 2011 Vuelta a España — comes close. Gaviria could surpass that recent benchmark Friday.

“I have three,” he said when asked how he compared to others. “I was hoping I could win one in my first grand tour, so to win three, well, it’s something fantastic.”

Gaviria’s first Giro is impressive by any measure. Compared to contemporary sprinters, he’s only matched by Sagan in terms of wins in grand tour debuts. Some say this year’s Giro sprint field is relatively weak. Only André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) are in the mix. However, any victory in a grand tour has a high price-tag.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), the reigning king of the sprint, crashed out of his grand tour debut at the Tour de France without winning a stage. The next year he won two stages at the Giro, and then four stages at the Tour.

Greipel, who has won one stage during this Giro, did not win in his grand tour debut at the 2006 Vuelta. Ewan, who’s also won one stage in Italy, managed to win a stage in his grand tour debut at the 2015 Vuelta.

Other contemporary sprinters also struggled in their grand tour debuts. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) did not win a stage in his 2011 Vuelta debut, and he has yet to win a stage at the Tour. Marcel Kittel, Gaviria’s Quick-Step teammate, won one stage during the 2011 Vuelta.

Surprisingly, Gaviria takes a rather unorthodox view of mountain stages to manage the stress.

“I thought it would be a lot harder than it’s been [in the mountains],” Gaviria said. “I take it easy in the mountain stages — I try to recover a little bit, because the flat stages for me are the most important and I have pressure to win. The mountain stages are almost like a rest day for me.”