Elia Viviani clashed with Sacha Modolo first, then with Caleb Ewan. The Sky rider won both bouts. Giacomo Nizzolo was up next, and again Viviani was victorious. Elbows out, shoulder down, the wheel was his. But the perfect position he fought for and won — sitting inches behind eventual stage winner Marcel Kittel with 300 meters to go — would not be enough. At the finish it was Kittel again, with a bike length to spare.
Viviani says the Kittel that showed up to this Giro is all but unstoppable.
“I think he’s the strongest sprinter I’ve seen in the first seven years I’ve done as a pro,” Viviani said. “Yeah, today I spent a lot to take his wheel, but when he starts [sprinting] I can’t stay on his wheel. I never think to pass him, but only staying on his wheel. And I lose a few meters. That is just strong.”
Viviani finished second, a full bike length behind Etixx – Quick-Step’s star sprinter. It’s a result he’s pleased with, he said, given the reality of Kittel’s current form. Speaking with press at the Team Sky bus following Sunday’s stage, Italian sprinter appeared resigned to the his situation.
“Kittel is in top form. He’s unbelievable. At the moment he’s the strongest sprinter in the world. For the moment, if you take his wheel you can do second,” he said.
Kittel hasn’t been unstoppable all season, but Viviani says he’s only lost when he made an error. At Three Days of De Panne, for example, Kittel jumped at 300 meters to go into a head/cross wind, and Viviani was able to come around him for the win.
“I won, but he didn’t do a perfect sprint,” Viviani said of De Panne. “We know at the moment, I am one of the top 10 sprinters in the world. But if Kittel does it all perfect, it’s impossible to beat him, at the moment. Today this is the situation. For that, I’m really happy to do second place.
“To take [Kittel’s] wheel is the focus of the day,” he said. “If I spend a lot a lot to take the wheel I stay on the wheel and get second, and that’s what I do. So, I spend a lot because it’s a real battle to be on Kittel’s wheel.”
Viviani shook his head when asked if a tactical change could force a De Panne-type error from Kittel and his strong team.
“No, no, no, if he [makes] an error, he [makes] an error. My focus is take his wheel, then keep trying. Sometimes you can go faster and try to win,” he said.
The best tactic, Viviani said, might be to simply wait Kittel out. If his form begins to falter in the final weeks, he will be more vulnerable. Viviani will continue to chip away at the points jersey competition, too, and will look to hard days in the final week to add more points.
“He is in I think the best form, and I can improve day-by-day,” Viviani said of Kittel. “After three weeks without racing [before the Giro], we are sure to be strong also the last week.”
Sunday’s win was the Etixx sprinter’s second stage win in a row, and the margin of victory was nearly as impressive as the two bike lengths he held Saturday. Thanks to time bonuses, Kittel will pull on the pink jersey when the Giro d’Italia returns to Italy.
Stage four features a steep ramp in the last 10 kilometers, with grades up to 18%. Viviani believes it is unlikely to be a sprint stage. But the fast men will return for stage 5, which also happens to be Kittel’s birthday, and again for stage 7.
The question each will ask himself remains the same. Can anyone beat this Kittel?