Winning breeds winning, and Elia Viviani doesn’t want to slow down this year following his breakout 2018 season.
The Italian hit his stride last year in a move to Quick-Step. Viviani was all but untouchable in the sprints, winning 18 times across the season.
“Equaling the number of victories we had last year will be difficult, but that’s what we are working toward,” Viviani said. “We are working to try to win in every sprint opportunity there is.”
Viviani, 30, was hot out of the gates in his season debut in Australia. He won a stage at the Santos Tour Down Under with a spectacular acceleration along the fences in stage 1 that revealed just how valuable his track racing skills can be. Then he doubled up to win the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race a week later, a race he said he put among his major one-day goals in his career.
Up next is the UAE Tour (February 24-March 2) before a full rush into the classics with Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, and a return to Gent-Wevelgem, where he suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) last year.
“We are happy with the start of the season and the condition is good,” Viviani said. “We had a good winter of work, now we are ready for the next big races. At Tirreno, we will make a good race for the preparation for Sanremo, which is the next real big goal of the season.”
Viviani ripped through the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España last year, picking up eight grand tour stages between the two. This year, he’ll return to the Giro and then the Tour de France for just the second time in his career with the goal of picking up his first Tour stage win.
“Last year, we started the season with a new team and a new lead-out,” Viviani said. “This year, we all know each other now, and we are very excited for this season. We want to keep winning.”
Viviani and his teammates don’t want to lose the momentum that carried them all the way through 2018. With the departure of Fernando Gaviria, Viviani is the team’s top sprinter and will have the best of the team’s support around him in every race he goes to.
The pressure is on to keep the winning ways going into the first major European races of 2019.
“To start the season like this with a win sets the tone. Elia is coming into the season very concentrated and he made a very good winter,” said Rik Van Slyke, sport director Deceuninck-Quick Step. “Last year, he won so many races and he wants to continue in this way all season.”
Viviani’s move from Team Sky to Quick-Step last year gave him the backing and opportunities he never saw at the GC-centric Sky program. With Sky putting its weight behind Chris Froome at the grand tours, Viviani was clearly second fiddle. Viviani was fine with that because he had the 2016 Olympic Games as his central focus, where he won gold in the omnium, but by the end of 2017, he was ready for more support as he made his complete transformation from the boards to the road.
A big factor to Viviani’s impressive wave was the well-oiled lead-out train at Quick-Step. Michael Morkov, Max Richeze, and Fabio Sabatini all played key roles throughout the season, setting up Viviani for the final shot to the line.
“With the season we had last year, we had some pressure to live up to that,” Morkov said. “We try to keep the momentum going, remember the good things we did and improve on the things we didn’t do.”
Morkov, who also has deep track racing experience, is one of the most reliable lead-out men in the bunch. He used to work Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan before linking up with Viviani. He saw Viviani’s confidence grow last year with every victory.
“It’s always interesting with the sprinters. When they have momentum their confidence goes so high,” he said. “When they are winning a lot, they want to push even more because they believe they can win.”
Morkov said Viviani and the rest of the squad work hard at perfecting their lead-out train. They study each possible sprint stage in detail before every race. Using such tools as Google Maps, they can take a virtual tour of a promising stage finale. The lead-out order isn’t set, and they will mix up who does what in the final kilometers based on the topography and characteristics of each race.
“We try to be flexible with our train. We don’t have a specific order we stick to and we talk about who is best to set him up,” Morkov said. “Normally we do a plan before the race, depending a bit on the terrain, the finish, the roads, and the competition. Sometimes we do a classic lead-out, or sometimes we can put Elia on the wheel of another sprinter.”
Viviani’s big dream, like nearly every fast Italian, is to win Milano-Sanremo. Morkov said the team is working hard toward that goal.
“We stay sharp. We do our homework and study the course, and watch the competition,” Morkov said. “I love working with Elia, he’s an amazing athlete and he takes his job seriously. He knows what he wants and what his limits are.”
Viviani’s Sanremo hopes could hinge on the UAE Tour. If he reconfirms his place at the top of the heap in the sprints, he will be the man to beat down the Via Roma in little more than a month’s time.