Fernando Gaviria expects to sprint back into the fast lane in 2021

Colombian sprinter hopes bouts with COVID-19 won't slow him down.

Photo: David Ramos

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Fernando Gaviria is a rider apart when it comes to the image of a Colombian racer.

While many of compatriots are lean and sleek, and climb the highest roads of the world with apparent ease, Gaviria is grounded with a different, but equally efficient skillset. Egan Bernal might be among the fastest when the road tilts upward, Gaviria is a force on the flats.

After an uneven 2020 season, which included two bouts with COVID-19 for the Colombian sprinter at UAE-Emirates, there’s only thing on Gaviria’s mind as he faces off against the peloton’s elite sprinters next week at the UAE Tour.

“The objective is to win again,” Gaviria said. “Last year was not ‘lost’ due to the health problems, but it wasn’t a good season. The results could have been better.”

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At 26, Gaviria is part of a generation of Colombian riders who have marked the past decade. He followed a very different path to the European peloton, and discovered that his innate skillset was on the flats and in the bunch sprints. He grew up on the track, and entered as one of the medal favorites for the omnium in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016.

It was his breakout performances as the 2015 Tour de San Juan, when he beat Mark Cavendish twice in bunch sprints, that opened the door for him to Europe. He quickly signed with Quick-Step, and moved across to UAE-Emirates in 2019. Since his arrival in Europe, he’s emerged as one of the peloton’s top sprinters, with 46 career wins.

In his Tour de France debut in 2018, he won his first stage, and became only the second Colombian up to then to wear the yellow jersey.

“When I was kid, I raced for fun. Once you are professional, you have to work to become your best,” Gaviria said. “Europe is another level, and you have to change your mentality.”

For 2021, Gaviria is hoping to rediscover that kick that made him the darling of the bunch a few years ago. He’s still winning, but it’s gotten harder with the likes of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) bringing dedicated trains to the top races.

With the rise of Tadej Pogačar, the Tour won’t be on his calendar in 2021. Instead, it’s a busy spring in Europe, with targets at Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo before a return to the Giro d’Italia, where he’s won five stages and the points jersey.

“The Giro is a race I know very well,” he said in a media call. “I want to win some stages there and win the ciclamino jersey again. The team is going to the Tour with strong support for Tadej, and there won’t be any room for a sprinter.”

All clear on COVID-19

More pressing for Gaviria is returning to the groove of being a top sprinter. Last year, he was among the cases of someone being infected twice by COVID-19. His 2020 season started off in a rough way as he ended up being hospitalized for weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19 during the UAE Tour in February.

Gaviria bounced back, and won a stage at his return race at Vuelta a Burgos in late July, and later two more races, only to be diagnosed for a second time with COVID-19 during the Giro d’Italia.

Gaviria insists he’s back in full health and hopes that there are not going to be any long-running impacts on his ability to race. Hope opened his 2021 season last week with 17th in the bunch sprint at the Clásica de Almería.

“I had an exam in November with one of the team doctors, with cardiologists, and they did all kinds of exams, and everything appears normal,” he said. “It’s as if I had the flu, something like that, and there don’t seem to be any consequences from COVID-19.”

Gaviria will be treading a little more confidently after UAE Emirates became the first WorldTour team to be vaccinated for the coronavirus several weeks ago.

“I was very calm about the whole thing,” he said. “We have to thank the team for organization as quickly as they did. It’s something that everyone will eventually do.”

Gaviria will see where he measures up soon enough when he lines up against the peloton’s fastest sprinters at the UAE Tour.

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