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Perhaps it’s only appropriate that Fernando Gaviria makes his European season debut this weekend on the Belgian cobbles.
Though the 23-year-old is already a confirmed sprinting star, many inside the Quick-Step organization see the Colombian speedster as a rider destined for greatness in the northern classics.
Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere said Gaviria could be the breakout rider to challenge Peter Sagan in the northern classics.
“He’s an assassin. He wants to win everything,” Lefevere said. “We are watching the birth of a star.”
Gaviria isn’t receiving marquee billing in this weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad/Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne double — that honor goes to Philippe Gilbert, Niki Terpstra, and Zdenek Stybar — but expect him to be a protagonist all spring.
So far, Quick-Step has yet to confirm his 2018 classics schedule, but it’s likely he will start both Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix for the first time.
When Gaviria looks into the crystal ball, he dreams of winning stages in the Tour de France and cycling’s other major races. But it’s the northern classics that seemed to have captured his imagination.
“Those are the races I dream of,” Gaviria said of the northern classics. “Right now, I think my heart is bigger than my legs. I will go to learn and to be ready to help.”
He’s already gotten a taste. In the past two seasons, he raced Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem after Milano-Sanremo. Like a sponge, Gaviria is soaking up all he can as he blossoms into cycling’s next big star.
“Even in those races, I have learned a lot about racing on the pavé,” he said. “What I did learn is that I love racing on the cobbles. This is the best team to learn to race on for those types of races. These races will be a major target for the future.”
Gaviria’s already won four times this year, but not yet on European roads. He won a stage and crashed out of the Tour de San Juan. Despite initial worries he might have been seriously injured, Gaviria bounced back to win the opening three stages of the Oro y Paz race on home roads in Colombia.
With his European debut this weekend, he’ll be opening a busy spring calendar, including a return to Tirreno-Adriatico, ahead of what’s expected to be a Tour de France debut in July.
While Quick-Step is still mapping Gaviria’s exact racing schedule this spring, there’s another race that has a big circle on his calendar: Milano-Sanremo. Though it’s not a Belgian classic, it is a monument. And it’s a race he seems destined to win.
“I believe I can win it. I’ve been close already two times,” Gaviria said. “My first Sanremo I had a crash when I was in perfect position in the finale. Last year, I didn’t have the luck or legs to win. I was fifth, it’s not bad, but I am not happy with that. It’s the race that I most want to win more than others right now.”
Even without retired superstar Tom Boonen, Quick-Step brings a deep and experienced team for the northern classics. Gaviria will have to earn his place on each roster for the major races. Insiders believe they’re seeing the makings of cycling’s next big classics star.
“He has all the qualities to win a race like Flanders, and maybe even Roubaix,” said Quick-Step director Rik Van Slyke. “With the finishing speed he has, he can be a threat across any other the northern classics. When he gets more experienced [in the classics], I think he will be a big winner.”