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Occasionally a rider needs time to settle into a new squad, but Elia Viviani is looking quite comfortable in Quick-Step Floors kit already.
One of several marquee sprinters settling into new digs this season, Viviani hasn’t wasted much time finding the podium. He overcame a late mechanical and an agonizingly slow bike change to storm to victory on Wednesday’s second stage of the Dubai Tour. The win — on the day of his 29th birthday — was his second of the year, coming just a few weeks after he claimed stage 3 of the Tour Down Under.
It can’t hurt that Quick-Step had a stellar supporting cast in place when Viviani arrived. Many of the same big names that helped propel Marcel Kittel to five Tour de France stage victories in 2017 are still with the Belgian WorldTour outfit. However, Quick-Step sport director Brian Holm attributes Viviani’s smooth transition to his mental makeup more than anything.
“I didn’t really know him before he came into the team,” Brian Holm told VeloNews of Viviani after his Dubai Tour stage win. “I asked Saba [Fabio Sabatini] about him. He worked with him in the past with Liquigas, and he seemed like a very calm person. Even today, for example, we probably made one of the slowest wheel changes in history, and the mechanic said afterwards that [Viviani] just said, ‘Thank you very much.’ It was quite funny, and it shows his character.”
That attitude can come in very handy in the messy sprints of the Dubai Tour, which has seen multiple riders forced to go it alone in the finale after hairy run-ins. Those scenarios are another strength for Viviani. Holm says his skill set is a bit more Mark Cavendish than Marcel Kittel.
“He can freestyle in the bunch, like Cav did in the past if he didn’t have a lead-out,” Holm said. “It’s not very often that [Viviani] gets boxed in.”
And when he does? He owns up to his mistakes. For someone managing the many big personalities of the team, that’s a welcome character trait, especially for a sprinter.
“He’s not a guy who really makes excuses,” Holm noted. “He said ‘I had the legs to win’ yesterday. He said, ‘I f—ked it up alone because I chose right and should have gone left. For sure I could have won.’ He doesn’t make a big drama out of it.”
Even if he hasn’t managed to turn every single sprint opportunity into a victory, Viviani is enjoying his new surroundings. He put up admirable results at Team Sky without much support in the sprints. The British outfit generally designs its rosters around general classification bids. At Quick-Step, he gets more backup, and it shows. He probably won’t need to rely on the freestyling ability as much now.
That requires a bit of adjustment for a rider who had gotten so comfortable looking for other trains to follow.
“I need to change my sprint,” Viviani noted after his win Wednesday, “because nine times out of 10 now, they put me in a good position with free road [ahead]. In the last eight years, I was always in the back, changing wheels, follow this sprinter, follow that team. So this is a big difference.”
Viviani says he’s ready to put in the hours required to make those changes. It’s still early, of course, but the initial returns certainly lend credence to Holm’s take on Viviani as a level-headed talent.
“I’m not a phenomenon. I work a lot to arrive at my goals, to win the biggest races, to try to beat the best sprinters in the world,” Viviani said. “After the Olympic medal, mentally and physically I’m really on the top. From that point, I’m really focused on the road. From the last part of the season last year you see, I think, I’m the rider I really want to be. This year, no excuses, I have a really strong team.”
There’s plenty of racing ahead in the 2018 season, and time will tell how Viviani performs in the marquee events this spring and summer. As strong as the Dubai Tour field is, the level of competition at Milano-Sanremo or the Giro d’Italia will almost certainly be higher. That said, early return are still returns.
After letting speed demon Marcel Kittel jump ship to Katusha-Alpecin this past offseason, Quick-Step has to like what it sees so far from their Italian newcomer.