Fernando Gaviria seems destined for greatness. Just 23, he already exudes the aura of a big champion. Some pundits believe he could be the next Peter Sagan, a multi-faceted rider who could shine in grand tours, classics, and world championships.
Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere was quick to sign Gaviria after he watched him beat Mark Cavendish in a sprint during Argentina’s 2015 Tour de San Luís. After riding as a stagiaire that fall, Gaviria turned pro in 2016 and has been on a rapid upward trajectory ever since.
In two pro seasons, he’s already won 25 races, including Paris-Tours, two stages at Tirreno-Adriatico, and four stages in his grand tour debut last May at the Giro d’Italia. “He’s an assassin,” Lefevere says. “He wants to win everything.”
Lefevere believes so strongly in Gaviria that he dumped German sprint ace Marcel Kittel in favor of the Colombian. He’s betting big that Gaviria can deliver in his Tour de France debut this summer.
“We are watching the birth of a star,” Lefevere says unapologetically. “He will win a lot of races.”
VeloNews sat down with Gaviria during the team’s December training camp in Calpe, Spain. Since then, he had a run of misfortune this spring, crashing at Tour de San Juan and also at Tirreno-Adriatico. The latter incident derailed his entire spring classics campaign. He’s expected to return to racing May 1 at Eschborn Frankfurt in Germany.
VeloNews: Colombia is a nation of climbers. How did you become a sprinter?
Fernando Gaviria: It’s almost impossible to win as a climber in Colombia because there are so many great climbers. My ambitions were always to win. What was different for me is that I began racing on the track. That led me down a different path, and when I started racing on the road, every time there was a race that ended in a sprint, I would win.
VN: Do you feel proud to be Colombian?
FG: We are part of a new generation of Colombian riders. We are helping the world see a new face of Colombia. Things have changed so much in our nation. It’s not at all how things used to be. We hope that our successes in cycling can help the world see Colombia in a new light.
VN: Looking back at your win at the Tour de San Luís in 2015, when you beat Mark Cavendish, what did that mean for you?
FG: That victory changed everything for me. I wasn’t known in Europe. No one could even imagine there could be a sprinter from Colombia. That victory opened the door for me to become professional.
VN: What have you learned racing at the WorldTour level?
FG: I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned how to read the race, how to work as a team, how to study my rivals. I’ve learned how to target something, and then work to try to attain those goals.
VN: Everyone says you’re cycling’s next big star.
FG: That’s complicated. Those are big shoes to fill. Every rider wants to be like Tom Boonen or Philippe Gilbert, like riders we’ve admired. For me to imagine being like those two seems like something impossible.
VN: You are now the team’s sprint leader. Do you feel pressure?
FG: It’s another challenge, another goal. The team is making a big bet on me, and I don’t want to let them down. It gives me extra motivation to have the weight of the expectation of the team on my shoulders. I do not step away from it.
VN: Do you know when you’ll win?
FG: For me, it remains a mystery. Some of my biggest wins have come when my legs felt terrible. Other days I feel great and do not win. There are so many factors that come into play. Every sprint is different, and everything can change in an instant.
VN: Who are your top rivals in the sprints?
FG: Everyone. I never underestimate anyone. I don’t fear anyone. I respect them. I study my rivals. I try to see their ticks, their mannerisms, to better understand their tactics. I am just starting in this game. I have so much to learn.
VN: How important were your four victories in the Giro last year, in terms of your confidence to perform in the biggest races?
FG: I always had confidence. I was always looking for victories. Those Giro wins were very important because it was my first grand tour, so I wanted to perform well. It unfolded even better than I could have imagined.
VN: Are you building a lead-out train at Quick-Step?
I will have two riders with me all season: Iljo Keisse and Max Richeze. They are riders who are closest to me and with whom I can confide. They’ve helped me a lot, and I hope that they will be with me in the Tour.
VN: Speaking of the Tour, is starting it the culmination of a dream?
FG: Dream? Of course, you can dream about anything. There are dreams that never come true because they are not realistic. To become a professional was a dream for me that I knew was attainable. But for me, the idea of racing the Tour de France was something like a dream that would never come true. I’ve had to work and work for so many years to make this dream come true. If my health stays with me, I will be there.
VN: The yellow jersey could be up for grabs for sprinters in the first stage. Is that another dream?
FG: That’s what everyone wants. Nairo wants it. [Rigoberto] wants it. There’s only been one Colombian in the history who has had it [Victor Hugo Peña]. We will try. The first stage is relatively flat, and there will be some wind and maybe some crashes, but I think it will end in a sprint.
VN: What are your first memories of the Tour?
My first Tour memories came when I first started to ride the bike as a teenager. I was watching riders like Cavendish, riders that I am now racing against. I dreamed to be one day racing in the Tour de France, and with some luck, I will realize that dream this summer. It’s not just enough to be there. I want to win.