A stunned Elia Viviani sat on the ground after the finish line in Belgium today, crushed to miss the chance at winning Ghent-Wevelgem after his Quick-Step Floors team dedicated themselves to his sprint. It had been "one of his biggest chances" to check off a major goal his list.
Viviani formed part of an elite group of 23 riders off the Kemmelberg. In Wevelgem, he began his sprint late on the right as world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) charged down the left towards his third title in the one-day race.
"When you lose one of the biggest chances to win a race when you have a career goal, and you miss the chance to win when you know you can win..." said Viviani at the finish, still emotional and wiping his tears.
"It was a big chance to win a gold-career race and I missed it. Of course, we'll come back. But today, we lost it from the world champion."
Quick-Step Floors had the numerical advantage in Ghent-Wevelgem, but lost to Sagan when it bet on a sprint – a tactic it would not have changed.
The Belgian super-team charged off the Kemmelberg climb with sprinter Elia Viviani, Philippe Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar and Yves Lampaert.
"What would we do differently? Win!" general manager Patrick Lefevere said.
"I think if you are four people in the first group then you have to take the risk to help our sprinter.
"Would we have played the tactics differently? No, no. It was not possible in this kind of race to play it differently. No, I think we engaged Elia to win and it was his chance, and OK, it's not important who wins, it's Mister Sagan.
"And Elia came from the back, he was a little bit struggling between Démare and some other riders, but before he could react, Peter had three bike lengths and there was nothing to do."
Team Sky let the Italian sprinter out of his contract early to have a chance to race with Quick-Step Floors, who will take him to the Giro d'Italia this summer. Despite the near miss on Sunday, he has been successful in 2018 with six wins. Today, he appeared ready for number seven from the top of the Kemmelberg climb at 34.3 kilometres out.
"I was so concentrated from the whole way, from the top down. I was always at the front in the key moments," continued Viviani.
"I am convinced that I made the right decision to follow Démare in the sprint, so this is the story of this one sprint. We had a small gap on the right. Démare went, and I closed my eyes and went, but I just missed these two seconds when Sagan went on the left."
The winner of the omnium at the 2016 Olympics had a chance to take one of the biggest one-day races for a sprinter. It would have been the most important one-day race in his palmarès, superseding his wins in the Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France and Cyclassics Hamburg in 2017.
"We know after 250 kilometres, Peter is fast," added Viviani, "but today, I felt faster."
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