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Vuelta a Espana

Viviani on fire at Vuelta

Elia Viviani keeps racking up wins in his first season with Quick-Step, a team that has helped him to flourish in the field sprints.

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BERMILLO DE SAYAGO, Spain (VN) — Elia Viviani is the fastest man in the world. Well, at least in this corner in Spain on this day in early September.

That’s good enough for the ebullient Italian who blasted to his most convincing victory yet of the Vuelta a España.

Following a near-perfect lead-out, Viviani beat back a late charge from three-time world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) for his 17th victory on the 2018 season.

“I’m in the best moment of my career,” Viviani said. “To beat the world champion is very moving. I hope it will stay like this for a while now.”

At 29, Viviani is enjoying the best season of his career. He leads the WorldTour with 17 victories — Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has 13 and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) has 12 — and has been a key contributor to Quick-Step’s WorldTour-leading haul of 60 wins on the season.

Why the sudden peak? A few things. The switch from Team Sky to Quick-Step gave him chances to race to win in the grand tours. Viviani’s focus on the road since winning the Olympic gold medal in the omnium in 2016 is coming to fruition. And most important, Quick-Step’s commitment to build a train around Viviani in the sprints.

“The team was perfect today,” Viviani said. “The lead-out today was like it reads in the book.”

A key member of Viviani’s train is Michael Morkov, the veteran Danish track rider who acts as captain of the train. He directs the team in the sprints and takes the penultimate pull ahead of lead-out man Fabio Sabatini.

“I make the calls in the last 10km. So if we have to move up or move down, that’s my call,” Morkov said. “I love when we can win with the whole team contributing like this.”

Morkov said he expects three more chances for sprints during this Vuelta — stages 12, 18 and 21 in Madrid. Quick-Step wants to keep adding to its haul of two sprint victories so far in this Vuelta.

“Quick-Step took a guy with big potential and on this team, Elia has all the cards to play,” Morkov said. “Elia always had a few guys supporting him at Sky, but here, he is the captain every time he races.”

Viviani was euphoric at the line after beating back Sagan, who nipped him at Gent-Wevelgem in a tearful defeat back in April.

“The timing of the lead-out was perfect today,” Viviani said. “When I jumped with 150m to go, it’s almost impossible to lose when you’re in the front like that.”

Viviani’s move to Quick-Step after three seasons with Sky is another decisive factor in his emergence this season as one of the fastest sprinters in the bunch.

Sky is clearly focused on winning grand tours overall, so Viviani only raced two grand tours — the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Giro — during this stint with the UK-registered team. Viviani, however, said he wouldn’t be as successful today if he had not raced with Sky.

“Those three years with Sky you could really see me change as a rider,” Viviani said. “I won the Olympic medal because they gave me a chance to focus on the track. Then I tried to convert myself into a good road rider. Last year, I won two big races with them [Cyclassics Hamburg and Bretagne Classic-Ouest France] but I needed to leave Sky because it is a GC team and I am a sprinter.

“I want to be one of the best sprinters and to win stages in grand tours, so coming to Quick-Step made the difference,” he continued. “I came here to be a leader in the sprints and they have given me an entire train to work with me.”

After winning five stages in the Giro and now two in the Vuelta, the Tour de France remains a blank canvas. He raced the Tour once, in 2014 with Cannondale, but did not win a stage. He knows with the presence of Fernando Gaviria, who won two Tour stages in his debut this summer, it won’t be easy to earn a spot at the Tour.

“We have two strong sprinters on the team with Gaviria, so we will see about the future,” he said. “I would like to go back to the Tour and win a stage. I also would like to win some classics. We can discuss all of this later.”