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Viviani pedals through Australia toward Sanremo

The Italian is targeting Milano-Sanremo this season, a race in which he finished ninth in 2017.

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GEELONG, Australia (VN) — The road to the Via Roma goes through the Great Ocean Road for Elia Viviani.

The Italian speedster leaves Australia this week with two WorldTour victories, and now he’s setting his sights on his first major goal of 2019: Milano-Sanremo.

The Italian monument is the promised land for any sprinter, even more so if you’re Italian.

“Milano-Sanremo is like a woman — you need to go around that woman a lot before you can take that win,” the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider joked. “For an Italian, that is a really important one.”

All jokes aside, Viviani is deadly serious about winning the Italian monument. At 29, he finally has the depth and experience to challenge for Sanremo. In five previous starts, he’s only punched into the top 10 once, a ninth in 2017.

Last year, he made it over the famous late-race climbs at Cipressa and Poggio with the front group, but his legs froze when he opened up his sprint for the podium spot behind winner Vincenzo Nibali. He slinked across the line 19th, last in the lead group.

“I need to save all the energy I can. You saw last year, I passed over the Cipressa and Poggio very well … and in the sprint I just blew up,” he said. “The sprint was for second place [behind Nibali], and the lead-out was just perfect from [Maximiliano] Richeze was perfect, but when I stand up, I had nothing left in my legs.”

Milano-Sanremo is a unique challenge for the pure sprinters. As Viviani said, they need to have the legs to go the distance and retain some kick for the final sprint.

Viviani said he will return to Europe with an eye on building up his resistance without losing his top-end speed — no easy feat for the pure sprinters.

“If you go with more resistance training, maybe you lose a little speed. That’s the challenge of Sanremo. That’s the big goal for me, to build my resistance,” he said. “That’s what I will be doing in the next month. I have a good recovery period from this month, and I will be working toward my next big goal. And that clearly is Sanremo. I will use Tirreno to build toward the race. I am in Monaco, so for all of February I will be doing a lot of recon.”

Viviani flew back to Europe after taking a stage win at the Santos Tour Down Under and the victory at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Those are two wins that set up Viviani nicely for a repeat of his breakout 2018 campaign that included 18 victories, including stage wins at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.

Viviani, out to confirm that he is the fastest man in the peloton, enters the 2019 season even more confident than ever.

“The approach to the season is different than last year,” he said. “Last year, we were together in a new team. This was all new for us, and we learned a lot. We are also focused on what’s ahead of us. The Tour Down Under was harder than last year, so we recovered well after the race.”

Viviani’s next major races are Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, with a possible start in the UAE Tour.

Viviani keeps checking off boxes on his palmares “to do list.” The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday was another realistic goal for one-days that he wants to win in his career. Up next are Gent-Wevelgem and, of course, Sanremo.

“It’s a difficult race to approach,” he said of Sanremo. “For a sprinter, you need to pass those climbs with more energy. It’s not, ‘OK, you pass the Poggio, now I do the sprint.’ You need to do a sprint after 300km, after the Poggio and the Cipressa, it’s not so easy.”

Viviani, who is now based in Monaco, will shift his training to build longer distance rides into his workouts. He said he’ll ride up and down the Italian Riviera, taking in the famous “capi” and the Cipressa and Poggio on the way back home.

“Building my resistance for this distance is very important,” he said. “That’s a bad feeling, because I could have taken a podium in Sanremo, and I finished 19th.”