There’s nothing like a Quick-Step team to hone a sprinter and Classic rider’s talent. Moving to the Belgian outfit for 2018, 29 year old Elia Viviani has moved up an echelon this season, with wins at De Panne, the Giro d’Italia, his national road race and the Vuelta too. It’s clear that Quick-Step suits him, though he is quick to acknowledge that his last year with Team Sky also saw improvements.
“When I look back, I won two World Tour races in 2017 (Hamburg Cyclassics and GP Ouest France) so already it was a big step up. But this year we see more results because the team is different. You know, I really love the Team Sky mentality, but when I came to Quick-Step you feel the difference straight away.
“At Sky, when we’d do a meeting before a race. They’d say ‘OK Elia, try to do the sprint’ and if the team can help me, then they will, but if we are in a race for the general classification – Paris-Nice, Tirreno, whatever – the main thing is ‘stay together and try not to lose time. And, Elia, maybe do the sprint,’ you know? At Quick-Step, every briefing is how we are going to win the stage, it’s a completely different approach.
“Also, at the start of the season with Sky, you need to know what the programme of the main GC riders is before you can plan your own year.”
Quick-Step, without a credible general classification rider, is a stage-hunting, Classics team of long-standing and much experience, so it’s not surprising that Viviani has blossomed. Having found a last-minute berth at Sky in 2015, a refugee from the imploding Cannondale team, he had little clout with the British outfit. At Quick-Step he arrived as much more of a leader.
“Here they ask me what I want to race, which riders I want with me, that’s a big difference, so I have specific training camps with my riders – (Fabio) Sabatini, (Michael) Morkov and (Florian) Senechal – who follow me all season, from the start in Australia.”
Yet it’s not just on the road where Viviani and his compatriots are improving, there’s an Italian ‘risorgimento’ on the track too. Head of the performance at the Australian Institute of Sport Simon Jones noticed it after the Rio Olympics. “The Italians have realised what they need to do, they’re getting it together, studying the technology and equipment. They’re going to be good.”
Sure enough, at the recent European track championships, the Italian team rode out of Glasgow with four medals and Viviani the star of the show with a gold in the team pursuit and silver in the Omnium. A couple of weeks later, the Italian juniors followed that up with a series of medal-winning rides at their European championships.
“I think a lot of credit has to go to (national track coach) Marco Villa,” insisted Viviani. “He’s done such a lot of work since the London Games, with the whole squad, the men, the women, everyone. And the budget for the whole Federation, road and track, is small, around 5 million Euros.” Compare that to the riches of British Cycling – with its Lottery funding supplemented by HSBC sponsorship nudging £30 million – and you appreciate that Italy (and everyone else) is up against it.
Not that Viviani is complaining. “A couple of years ago, the Federation would have to go to suppliers and ask, politely, if they would supply four pairs of wheels. Now they are coming to us and wanting to work with us, asking us what they can do.
The head of Vittoria tyres was in Glasgow and after we won the team pursuit, he was asking us how he could help us, what special materials we needed to go faster. That’s such a difference. And if you look at the fastest teams – Britain is riding all Italian components. Pinarello frames, Kask helmets, Vittoria tyres, Campagnolo wheels in Glasgow. We are in a good position.”
A big cloud on the horizon is that the only covered velodrome in Italy, Montichiari, near Brescia is currently closed due to a leaking roof. “They closed it in July because water was getting on to the track and wasn’t safe. The track is owned by the city, but run by a separate company and they couldn’t agree who should fund the repairs. Now, I think [Italian Olympic Association] CONI has found the money, but they have to agree who will do the work and when it will start. I don’t think the track will be used by the national squad till next autumn. I feel bad, not for me, but for the juniors and under-23 riders.”
Given that his road career is blossoming, the machinations of Italian bureaucracy needn’t concern Viviani too much, as bad as he feels for the next generation.
“The age I am now, I am coming into my best years, so I will really focus on that and I’d say that I am in the best team I can be – for my type of rider – to get results on the road. To be honest I am a little bit worried because I’ve had such a good year, like all my good luck has come in the same season, everything has gone so well,” Viviani chuckles. Given his morale, the team around him and his trusty lead out trio, it’s no wonder Viviani is laughing.