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Fernando Gaviria readying for tilt at Tour of Oman

Colombian sprinter is over several bouts with COVID and ready for sprinters' battle with Mark Cavendish.

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Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) has ample reason to fear new COVID-19 variants having suffered from the virus multiple times the past two years, but the Colombian is hopeful he can this season return to full fitness and reclaim his position as a preeminent sprinter.

Gaviria opened his 2022 campaign at the Saudi Tour earlier this month and was disappointed to leave without a win, with his best result being a third-place finish to Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) on day one.

Also read: Mark Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria, other sprinters open season at Tour of Oman

However, the 27-year-old has also taken confidence from his form there, especially considering previous health battles that he remains touchwood weary of.

“I’m scared because now with every variant new it’s difficult. We need to still be careful with that, but I feel it was okay,” Gaviria said.

“The COVID for me is in the past — at the moment, I cross my fingers — and I feel much better than years before. It’s February and my condition is actually good. I feel much better the last year than two years ago. It’s good.”

Gaviria aims to capitalize on that feeling at the Tour of Oman where he will go head-to-head with the likes of Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) when the race starts on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Gaviria was the first to arrive and last to leave a pre-race press conference in which he admitted he was tired having had to travel in a roundabout way to Oman, leaving Saudi Arabia for Paris, where he was for two nights, then Paris to Muscat.

He didn’t sleep well on the journey, but it hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for the six-stage race where Cavendish will make his season debut, having arguably extended his career by 12 months with a resurgent, record-equaling campaign at the Tour de France last year.

“I’m really happy here, very comfortable with my performance. We’ll see what happens this week,” Gaviria said.
The Tour of Oman marks the midway point of an early-season campaign for Gaviria in the Middle East, after which he’ll embark on bigger objectives including the spring classics, and most notably, the Giro d’Italia.

Gaviria at the 2017 Giro announced himself as a sprinter of note, winning four stages, marking a stint in the maglia rosa, and claiming the points classification. Asked if he felt he could return to that form this season the seven-time Grand Tour stage winner was optimistic.

“Yes, I think we are coming there,” he said. “Now we make really nice program with my trainer, do that and every race and every training can go one step more. Now, I’m in really good shape, I’m happy with that.”

Gaviria will compete in Oman, which has three stages that suit pure sprinters, before heading to the UAE Tour. In Europe, he’s down to race at Paris-Nice and the Belgian classics, including Paris-Roubaix.

“After Paris-Roubaix I do altitude and then Giro,” he said.

The Tour de France is not currently part of his program, with the team built around two-time and reigning yellow jersey champion Tadej Pogačar.

“It’s difficult for the sprinters in the team,” he said. “At the moment we do only Giro because it’s difficult to say, ‘Yes, you go to the Tour, but we have Tadej,’ and then it’s too difficult to ride.”

It’s one of several changes Gaviria — who is out of contract at the end of the year — is adjusting to at UAE Team Emirates, which has welcomed German sprinter Pascal Ackermann to its fold.

Gaviria indicated that the rivals turned teammates will largely have separate race programs but equally didn’t forecast any problems working at the same race with him if necessary.

“The decision [we] take in the race, who is feeling better can do the sprint. For me, it’s not a problem to do the lead-out for him but the team don’t race [us] too much together,” he said.

“We have two different programs and that is actually good, but we see what happens in the next races, maybe we ride together and it’s good for the team.”

 

In Oman will, possibly for one of the last times, Gaviria will have the aid of long-time lead-out man Max Richeze, who has delayed retirement to fill an empty spot-on UAE’s roster for the first part of the season.

“He’s like my big brother,” Gaviria said.

Gaviria left Quick-Step to join UAE Team Emirates at the end of 2018, but whether he re-signs with the squad in the wake of such changes remains to be seen.

The impending loss of Richeze, acquisition of Ackermann, and the team’s general classification focus at the Tour could be cause to entertain a transfer, but contract talks were not at the forefront of Gaviria’s mind ahead of his second foray in the desert.

“The really important thing is the Giro d’Italia and then maybe we can start speaking with the team,” he said. “It’s not my job. My job is riding the bike, [agent Giovanni] Lombardi can speak with the boss.”