WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — There are two ways to express rage and disappointment after losing a race you think you could have won.
The first: handlebar pounding. The second is an uncontrollable outpouring of emotion.
A passionate Elia Viviani (Quick-Step) did both in exemplary style Sunday moments after Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) dashed ahead of him to win Gent-Wevelgem at the end of the 251km battle across Flanders fields.
“It’s the most disappointing loss of my career,” Viviani said. “If I lose a close sprint, I have nothing to say, chapeaux. I felt I was going faster today.”
Viviani, 29, might have thought he was going faster, but it was Sagan who won. The Slovakian darted up the left side of open road while Viviani was nearly boxed in on the right. Viviani surged clear too late to pass the three-time world champion. After pounding his handlebars in rage, Viviani curled up his knees on the sidewalk as the tears flooded out of his body.
“I am not interested in what people are thinking,” Viviani said of his finish-line tears. “The emotion was coming out. The disappointment is so high because I really thought I could win.”
It was a dramatic and emotional end to a somewhat blocked Gent-Wevelgem that saw several top-line sprinters make it into the elite 23-rider group. Gusting winds, mild weather and a dedicated Quick-Step chase kept the action tightly packed.
Part of Viviani’s disappointment is rooted on the fact that Quick-Step was doing most of the heavy lifting to control the day’s main breakaway. After winning the past six Belgian races it’s started, including Friday’s E3-Harelbeke, Quick-Step protected Viviani over the dirt “plugstreets” and the infamous Kemmelberg in a bid to keep the streak going. Once a reduced bunch pulled clear in the final hour of racing, Viviani was confident he could finish off the job.
“I like to have the responsibility of the results, but when I lose after the guys do a perfect job, the disappointment came out,” Viviani said. “You saw Gilbert and Yves pulling at the front. Stybie put me in perfect position. Niki protected me all day.”
Viviani’s finish-line disappointment was compounded by the fact that he’s been on a career-best run so far in the opening months of 2018. He’s won six races so far, including Driesdaage Brugge-De Panne last week.
After striking gold in the omnium on the track at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and three seasons at Team Sky, he slotted over to Quick-Step to fill the void left by the exiting Marcel Kittel (now Katusha-Alpecin). Seeing support he never saw at GC-focused Sky, Viviani has been stepping up all season. On Sunday, he came within one bike length of winning what he said would have been his most important victory on the road.
“When you lose one of the biggest chances to win a race when you have on a career goal, you’re disappointed,” he said. “It was a big chance to win a gold-career race and I missed it.”
Italians have a long-running history at Gent-Wevelgem, once considered a sprinter-friendly classic until the course became harder and longer over the past decade. Former Italian winners include Mario Cipollini, Luca Paolini, Francesco Moser and Guido Bontempi.
Viviani’s hopes of joining that list ran up against a motivated Sagan, who won his record-tying third Gent-Wevelgem title.
“You cannot do a mistake with the world champion,” Viviani said. “We know after 250km, Peter is fast, but today I felt faster. I just lost.”
No more tears from Viviani. He’ll race Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen, but surprisingly will not start at Scheldeprijs on April 4.