Gaviria strikes first in California sprint showdown

Fernando Gaviria struck first in the sprinters' showdown at the 2018 Amgen Tour of California.

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LONG BEACH, California (VN) — Round one of the sprinters’ showdown at the Amgen Tour of California went to Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors). The 23-year-old Colombian sprinted to a welcome stage 1 win on Sunday, nabbing his first victory since February after a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico derailed his spring campaign.

Now recovered from a fractured hand, Gaviria raised his arms in Long Beach with a number of heavy hitters in the rearview mirror. It was a long-awaited return to the top step of a podium for Gaviria — although, considering the hard work he’s put into getting back into shape, Gaviria said he was expecting to come away with a win sooner or later.

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. I was training at my house, I finished good, and tried to come back strong for Romandie, but it was more difficult there because of all the climbs,” Gaviria said in the post-race press conference. “After that, I went to [Eschborn] Frankfurt, and the legs were better there. Now I’m back for the win, so I’m happy about this.”

Well-positioned in the Quick-Step sprint train headed into the final kilometer of stage 1, Gaviria navigated a hectic few hundred meters in the wind-up to the final kick. He stayed upright despite a healthy dose of contact with Jasper Philipsen (Hagens Berman Axeon), and then went head-to-head with Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) on the finishing straight. Gaviria came out on top in the high-speed duel, with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) slotting into third behind Ewan.

Katusha-Alpecin’s Marcel Kittel came home fourth just ahead of Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), while Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) finished 10th.

At the line, Gaviria appeared less than thrilled with the argy-bargy of the sprint, particularly with the Tour de France now less than two months away. A multiple stage winner at the Giro d’Italia, Gaviria is set to make his Tour debut in July.

“That guy is crazier than me. No brakes in the corner, always on the pedals, it was too crazy,” he said of Philipsen. “I followed my lead out, it was normal that I would touch him trying to take the wheel, but he continued touching me.

“A crash, maybe for him it’s okay, the season comes down to this, but I think all the sprinters here that are taking condition for the Tour, it’s not good to crash now because it’s difficult to come back. So yeah, that was in the race—but now I’m really happy with the win, so no problems.”

The often-nervous battle for positioning, of course, doesn’t come down to luck alone. Quick-Step Floors manager Patrick Lefevere pointed out after the race that Gaviria has the intangibles to take wins against fierce competition. A dialed in lead out helps too. All that showed on Sunday.

“If you put it into watts it is probably Kittel who is the most powerful,” Lefevre said. “But Fernando is also very fast and it’s not always your maximum watts that are making you win.”

For his part, Kittel said after the sprint he found himself boxed in and forced to brake, but that he had the legs to be in the mix.

“I’ll take a look again at the video from the finish today and we’ll see what happened,” he said. “We were up there. It was a messy sprint, as we expected, and it’s never easy to be there as a team. So we can be happy as a team. Some fine-tuning and we’ll be okay.”

Looking at the other major sprint rivals in the race, Gaviria can be pleased with the result ahead of the very best in the world — although it won’t be easy doubling up on sprint wins in California. Stage 1 runner-up Ewan downplayed his form ahead of the week’s race, but he didn’t look far off from his best on Sunday. Sagan can’t be too displeased with his third-place result in a pancake-flat sprint against the purer speedsters. And Quick-Step sports director Brian Holm cautioned against underestimating Cavendish, who is himself working his way back to top form after an injury.

Nevertheless, Quick-Step was the first team to put points on the board, and that counts for something in this week’s sprinting battle royale in California. A win lifts some pressure off of Gaviria’s shoulders and perhaps puts it onto his rivals.

“Getting confidence is, of course, important here,” said Holm. “Beating those guys he is very good for the confidence.”

Round one to Gaviria and Quick-Step. “Those guys” should have a chance to strike back at the Colombian sprinter and his Belgian-based squad in Thursday’s stage 5, and again in Saturday’s finale in Sacramento.

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