Last year was supposed to be Fernando Gaviria’s baptism by fire in the northern classics. Then he crashed, broke his hand, and was sidelined for weeks.

Flash forward 12 months and the Colombian speedster is poised to be a factor over the next few weeks. He’s wearing a different jersey but facing the same challenge.

Gaviria came close to victory Wednesday in the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne, finishing second behind Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) in the mid-week classic.

“I did my sprint, but Groenewegen was on my wheel and was able to pass me,” Gaviria said Wednesday. “Now I’m going to try to recover ahead of Harelbeke [Friday] and above all, Gent-Wevelgem [Sunday].”

Many believe Gaviria, 24, has a big future in the northern classics. Not only in sprint-friendly races like Gent-Wevelgem, but also in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He’ll start both monuments this spring for the first time.

“I’m racing in Belgium with enthusiasm, and with an eye on the races like a student in cycling school with a lot of desire to take it all in,” Gaviria said. “I’d like to gain experience, learn from the directors and my teammates and get a good idea of what level is in these types of races.”

Gaviria’s been close in Milano-Sanremo, but missed out on the sprint as an elite group of attackers fended off the sprinters.

This spring, Gaviria said he wants to soak in the experience and ambiance of racing over the cobbles. With his top finishing speed, many believe he could be a factor even in the more punishing monuments. No one expects him to come close to winning just yet, but it’s important to break the ice and put rubber on the cobbles.

At UAE Team Emirates, he’ll have former Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff as a guide and mentor. Kristoff, who struggled last year to post strong results, looks to be back on good form.

Kristoff will lead going into Harelbeke on Friday, and Gaviria likely to lead at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

“With the E3, my northern campaign starts. I’m arriving there with my condition and health better than last year, so I hope to be able to be more competitive,” Kristoff said. “The team is reinforced for these races, so the signs are looking good.”