Tour Down Under: Viviani in the mix in Lyndoch
Two days after the People's Choice Classic criterium, the Italian came again very close to his first top 3 finish of the season.
Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under got underway in usual fashion with a breakaway of three riders pulling clear in the opening kilometers, after the bunch rolled out from Port Adelaide: Scott Bowden (UniSA), William Clarke (EF Education First-Drapac) and Nicholas Dlamini (Dimension Data). The trio managed to establish a five-minute maximum advantage, but the gap was always kept in check by the teams with powerful sprinters, who let the escapees fight for intermediate sprints and the first KOM of the race before deciding to increase the pace inside the final 30 kilometers.
The escape splintered over the rolling terrain, only Clarke remaining in the lead, but the Australian was caught by the charging bunch with around seven kilometers to go. Quick-Step Floors was among the teams amassed at the front, as Dries Devenyns, Michael Mørkøv and Fabio Sabatini were combining their efforts to place Elia Viviani in a good position going into the last straight.
The 28-year-old Italian – nested in the slipstream of his countryman – launched his sprint with 175 meters to go and looked poised to take his maiden victory in the Quick-Step Floors jersey, but a late charge of the other sprinters denied him in the end, and Elia concluded the day in fourth place, behind André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe).
"I am happy with how everything played out, how the train worked, but of course very disappointed with the result. I wanted to make a better result than in the criterium", Elia said in Lyndoch, where the race returned for the third consecutive year. "The final was really chaotic but the guys did an incredible job. Michael brought Saba and I into a perfect position and as it looked like the one who would start the sprint first would win I opened up, but in the end they came very fast from behind. I think we are heading into the right direction and we just have to keep our heads high and keep trying; then I am sure we will turn things in our favour."
Sports director Rik Van Slycke echoed Viviani's feelings at the end of the 145km-long stage, but was quick to shrug off the disappointment and stress out how promising the week looks after Tuesday's stage: "I think we deserved a bit more today. The lead-out train worked as it should, we did what we had to do and everything went as we had planned for during the stage, when we were one of the teams to control the breakaway. Elia had good legs, but it was a fast sprint and they came rapidly from behind. That's cycling. We now look forward to tomorrow's stage and take with us the positive things from today."
Photo credit: © Tim De Waele / Getty Images