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Gaviria expects stiff sprint competition in debut Tour

Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) left no doubt at the Tour of California: Even in an all-star sprinting field, he was the top dog in the fast finishes. And with a little over a month to go until the Tour de France, that’s a big deal.

The past several Tours have often seen a single sprinter dominate the bunch kicks. If the run-up to the sport’s biggest race is any indication, Gaviria could be poised to play that role even as he makes his Tour debut — but the 23-year-old Colombian expects the Tour sprints to play out differently this season.

“It’s going to be complicated because there will be a lot of us at the Tour. I think the wins will be divided up between us,” Gaviria told VeloNews in California. “I don’t think it’s going to be one guy winning every stage.”

The upcoming Tour may represent a tectonic shift for the peloton’s top tier of sprinters. Gaviria and Mitchelton-Scott’s Caleb Ewan are both set to make their first-ever appearances in the French grand tour.

Both riders have flashed potential for a few years now after coming to prominence as youngsters on the track and the road. Both — Gaviria in particular — have taken grand tour wins outside of France. Gaviria bossed the sprint stages at last year’s Giro d’Italia, claiming four victories en route to the points jersey.

Fernando Gaviria
Fernando Gaviria turned the prosecco on himself as he claimed his first grand tour stage win and first leader’s jersey. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

The 2018 Tour could be a chance for him to prove the new generation has officially arrived, with the likes of Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) now all on the other side of 30. Gaviria prefers not to jump the gun.

“Last year’s Tour, Kittel won five stages,” Gaviria pointed out. “I think those guys will still be strong. They will still be big rivals. We’re starting to contend for races directly against them but it’s not some big drastic change of the guard.”

That said, Gaviria certainly looks ready to make his grand entrance in cycling’s main event this summer. Squaring off against most of the marquee names in sprinting, he swept the three bunch finishes at the Tour of California. His dominance was even more impressive in the context of his season so far; he came into the year eyeing success in the cobbled classics, but he crashed at Tirreno-Adriatico and broke his hand, derailing his spring campaign.

It took time and effort for Gaviria to get back up to speed. The injury required surgery, and then he went home to Colombia. He tried to get back on the bike after two weeks off but had to wait another week before the pain subsided.

Gaviria says it was the first time he’s ever dealt with such a major injury before a big career target.

“I really wanted to do [the classics], I was preparing since January for them, but look, that’s cycling,” he said. “I haven’t had the best luck this year but we’re going okay now. We’re preparing well for the Tour, which is the main objective, and we expect to get there in good shape.”

Fernando Gaviria won the Giro’s points classification in his first grand tour appearance. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

Next up for Gaviria on his road to the Tour de France is the Tour de Suisse. There, he’ll square off against a few of the speedsters he faced in California (like Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan and UAE Team Emirates’s Alexander Kristoff), and a few that he didn’t (like Greipel).

The Swiss stage race is the final pre-Tour event on the WorldTour calendar. Expect Gaviria to be flying by the end of the week. As much success as Gaviria enjoyed in Long Beach, Elk Grove, and Sacramento, he says the best is yet to come.

“I’m not quite in Tour form. I expect to improve a lot,” he said. “I’ll be training a lot with [Maximiliano] Richeze, with Iljo [Keisse], my teammates for the sprint. We’ll be working to get to the Tour in the shape it deserves.”

Gaviria isn’t making any predictions for how his Tour de France will play out. He acknowledges that there will be several opportunities for him in the early goings of the race, but was hesitant to prognosticate considering his lack of experience in the race.

He does, however, feel well-prepared for his long-awaited first start at the Tour. The fact that the most successful squad of the spring has decided that the time is right for his debut has Gaviria headed into the summer in good spirits.

“I do feel ready now. The team has put its confidence in me, putting me in the biggest stage race on the calendar,” he said. “That shows me I’m mature enough to pull off the big results that the team and I want.”

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