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Gaviria motivated to get back into the fast lane

The Colombian sprinter wants to put the bumpy 2019 season behind him as he targets a return to the Tour de France in his second season with UAE-Team Emirates

The 2019 season wasn’t bad for Fernando Gaviria, but it wasn’t that great, either. And the Colombian sprinter is the first to admit it.

The Colombian star ended 2019 well below the level he had grown accustomed to after emerging as a top sprinter with Deceuninck-Quick-Step. Although for the vast majority of his colleagues in the peloton, six wins would be a dream come true, Gaviria feels his haul for 2019 reflects a sub-par year.

“I am not happy with my season,” he told VeloNews. “It was a very difficult year from start to finish.”

What happened? Things started off well enough in his high-profile move to UAE-Team Emirates, but things soon came off the rails during the Giro d’Italia. He scooped one ‘victory’ courtesy of the relegation of first-across-the-line Elia Viviani on stage 3, and abandoned with knee pains a few days later.

Gaviria did not celebrate being awarded the win at stage 3 of this year’s Giro after crossing the line second, behind friend and rival Viviani. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“We were heading to the Tour in a good way, but the injury I suffered in the Giro complicated everything. I spent a lot of time off the bike,” he explained. “I was unable to ride a bicycle because of the pain. I couldn’t enjoy cycling because of being away from racing. The recovery was very slow and when we came back, we wanted to hasten everything and that was another mistake that we should not have made.”

He returned to race the Vuelta a España without a win, but won twice at the Gree-Tour of Guangxi to put a nice shine on an otherwise lackluster season.

Was it the Quick-Step curse? Gaviria just laughed. One could say that all the big names that have left Quick Step for other teams often suffer a kind of “curse” and end up not winning as much, something Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere likes to remind everyone. Just like what happened to Gaviria, many other top names have not been able to reach their own numbers outside the Belgian team.

The Colombian sprinter does not dare to rule out the curse, but admitted that Quick-Step knows what it’s doing.

“Phew! I do not know what to tell you. It is somewhat complicated,” he said.

“Quick-Step is a winning team. They win a lot of races and that makes them win even more. That is why all their cyclists want to win even more. Each team has its methodology. In UAE we have been improving a lot in that. We no longer run just to do things right, but we are looking for victories. In that sense, we have been improving and I think that next year will be much better.”

Now, with only a few weeks left to start what will be his second year at UAE-Emirates, Gaviria considers that his starting point for 2020 is “much better than last year. Twelve months ago, I had shoulder discomfort from the crash in Turkey, where I broke my collarbone. Therefore, right now I am well above how I was last year.”

Gaviria closed out a rocky 2019 on a high with two wins at Tour of Guangxi. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Gaviria also knows it’s not so easy to be a pure sprinter in the modern peloton.

The grand tours aren’t as sprinter-friendly as they used to be and sprinters know these days they have to suffer to get their chances to win. Next year’s Tour de France is packed with climbs and will offer the peloton’s fast men just a few chances at glory.

That’s fine with Gaviria, who wore the yellow jersey in 2018 and is champing at the bit to get back to grand tour racing following a frustrating 2019 campaign. His big dream: to win on the Champs-Élysées. He knows that a victory in the grande boucle would be more than enough to justify a whole season.

“On the Tour, even if you only have one option, that of Paris, it is one of the most important stages of the year,” Gaviria said. “It is worth suffering the entire Tour to try to win the last stage.”

Even if it only comes down to that one sprint, Gaviria’s season will be largely focused on the Tour de France. With teammates Alexander Kristoff and Jasper Philipsen heading to the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, the Tour is all for Gaviria. And with a climb-heavy Olympic road race on tap in Tokyo, he confirmed to VeloNews he won’t be racing for a gold medal, either.

“I have spoken with my Italian teammates [on UAE-Team Emirates] who went to see the parcours and they have told me that it is very hard, so the Olympic Games are completely ruled out for me,” he said.

Gaviria’s prolific spell with Quick-Step included two stage wins and a yellow jersey at the Tour, though he never won on the Champs-Élysées.Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media | www.brakethroughmedia.com

Other objectives loom as well, including Milano-Sanremo. More than anything, Gaviria wants to get his groove back. Injuries and setbacks saw him struggling last year. For 2020, Gaviria wants to get back to being the same Gaviria who won more than 30 races in the Quick-Step jersey.

He’ll debut at the Tour de San Juan, skip the mountainous edition of the Tour of Colombia, hit the UAE Tour in February before carrying what he hopes is momentum into Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo.

When asked if he prefers quality or quantity in terms of triumphs in 2020, Gaviria says that “it is a difficult issue, but I would love to have that monument [with Milano-Sanremo]. That said, I would also say that winning a single race in a year, even if it is a monument, is not enough”.