Colombian Fernando Gaviria is training along the Tuscan coast and in its hills inland to prepare for Milan-San Remo.
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Gaviria splashed into the cycling world with a shock sprint win ahead of Cavendish in the Tour de San Juan in 2015. Quick-Step signed him soon after, allowing him to debut later that year and start 2016 with a road season built around racing the omnium in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“Why shouldn’t you?” said Quick-Step sports director Brian Holm of drawing parallels Gaviria and Cavendish.
“They are very different, but they are two good track riders with the same skills on the track. Neither one is big like Kittel or Greipel. They are a bit of same, he’s like a young Cav, just crazy.”
Gaviria won the omnium gold medal in the World Championships twice, but could not manage the same in Rio. However, he blasted through his debut season with seven wins, including a sprint finish ahead of the stars in Tirreno-Adriatico and an impressive Paris-Tours thrust to victory.
Quick-Step said he could have won Milan-San Remo on his debut too, at 21-years-old, if he had not crashed. Cavendish won it in 2009 at 23-years-old.
“With Milan-San Remo last year, he would’ve been quite close to that win if he didn’t crash,” Holm added.
“Paris-Tours, too, you don’t see a sprint win like that too often. Just kicking off with with 500 or 600 metres to go. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘he really has something extra!'”
Holm directed Cavendish in Columbia/HTC-Highroad when he began his career on the road. He said without a doubt, that Gaviria is the best neo-professional cyclist he has worked with.
“It was after that sprint in the Tour of Britain in 2015,” Holm continued. “He waited for Cav and then decided to go on his own.
“I’ve not seen anything like that before, I’ve seen many good riders, but he is probably the best out of Boasson Hagen, Cav, Sagan…”
Gaviria will return from Portugal’s Volta ao Algarve to Tuscan, where he recently rented an apartment in Lido di Camaiore from former professional and 2005 Milan-San Remo winner Alessandro Petacchi.
Petacchi may offer Gaviria help in understanding the secrets of Milan-San Remo. Most of that information, though, will come from sports directors Davide Bramati and Holm.
They will work with him in Tirreno-Adriatico and in reconnaissance of the climbs — the three small Capi climbs, the Cipressa and the Poggio. Just as with his debut, Holm said Gaviria should survive well along the Italian coast to San Remo
“He’s probably more like a good Erik Zabel, who could climb pretty well too,” added Holm.
“What ever people say, Cav could climb pretty well when he wanted too. But I’d compare Fernando more to Zabel.
“Gaviria has to know the Milan-San Remo course and have a strong team to bring him to the front. To have one or two riders with you even after the Poggio. It’ll be lined out.
“I remember when George Hincapie waited for Cav on the downhill, really looked over his shoulder, you see it on the TV footage, and brought Cav to the front. He blasted from far behind and caught Haussler. That was amazing.”
Another similarity, Quick-Step has two top sprinters in its team with Gaviria and Marcel Kittel just as Highroad had Cavendish and André Greipel.
The combination and constant attention on it from journalists proved too explosive for Highroad and Greipel eventually left for Lotto.
“We are so smart that we don’t let them do their own programmes! Like Cav and Greipel. It looked good on paper, but it didn’t really work in real life!” said Holm.
“It was funny, but it was funnier when it happened to someone else’s team. They were first and second where they were fighting. Cav said he gave him the victory and Greipel said that he would not have been able to beat him anyway. That was good fun.”
“Gaviria is a bit calmer, and Cav was always the life of the party. One of the boys,” Holm explained.
“Gaviria is a bit quieter. Heras, Botero, Sevilla and those guys were not so loud, I think it’s part of Colombia. They are just quiet people, just laid back, but the British are always cracking a few more jokes.”