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It was worth the long trip to China for Fernando Gaviria.
The UAE-Emirates star kicked to victory at the Tour of Guangxi Thursday to end a winless drought that dates to May. That’s even longer if you don’t count his win during the Giro d’Italia that came in the wake of a relegation of Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) in stage 3. His last official “W” when he was first across the line was all the way back in February.
That’s a long wait for a rider who notched 23 victories during 2017 and 2018.
“I feel like a little boy,” Gaviria told reporters at the line at the Gree-Tour of Guangxi. “It’s amazing to have this feeling back of being a winner again.”
It wasn’t easy for the 25-year-old Colombian in the first-stage mass gallop to open the final stage race of the 2019 WorldTour calendar. Gaviria needed everything he had to relegate Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) into second place in the 135km stage.
“I am really happy to win today,” Gaviria said. “The sprint was very difficult. In the last moment, I took the wheel of Bahrain, and it was a really long sprint. We all started too early, and I came from the back, and I barely won. The feeling is amazing. It’s a long time since I have won. To come to win in the last race of the season is really good for morale.”
The victory comes as a salve for Gaviria, who burst onto the scene in 2015, and soon emerged as one of the most dangerous sprinters in the bunch. Since joining the WorldTour in 2016, Gaviria has racked up nearly 40 victories. Only five have come in 2019. That’s a frustrating number for any sprinter, who lives for the fierce high-speed dangers of the mass sprints.
In 2017, Gaviria confirmed his stripes with four stage wins at the Giro in his grand tour debut. He surged even higher with two stages at the 2018 Tour de France, including a spell in the yellow jersey, then just the second Colombian to wear the maillot jaune.
A high-profile move to UAE-Emirates in 2019 started off promising enough, with three wins early and a string of podiums before going to the Giro. There were signs that all things were not right. Gaviria was suffering with knee problems. His early exit from the Giro didn’t solve what turned out to be a complicated season. He missed the Tour and came away winless at the Vuelta a España.
“I had a problem with the knee, and I was suffering all season long,” Gaviria said. “We left it all behind us. We had a bad season, and all we could do was forget it. We came to China with a new objective to try to win a stage, and now we have one, so let’s see if we can get more.”
Gaviria is hopeful the positive finale of 2019 will carry over into 2020. There’s good news for next season as Gaviria’s friend and favored lead-out man, Max Richeze, moves from Deceunick-Quick-Step to UAE-Emirates next year as well.
“It’s good for the morale to get this win,” Gaviria said. “It’s been a difficult season. To end the season like this only helps with the motivation going into next season, and we can hope it will be better.”