STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (VN) – The Liquigas-Cannondale train lined up 20km from downtown Steamboat Springs Thursday with a young Italian on the back. When he stormed through the middle of Bike Town USA for a fierce win, Elia Viviani stormed onto the radar for American cycling fans and the Italian world championships team.
But who is Elia Viviani?
At 22, Viviani is a second-year pro on the road, but boasts a long palmarés on the track, including multiple European U23 and junior championships. In just his sophomore season with Liquigas, the Italian has won no fewer than four times on the outdoor circuit, opening with the GP Costa degli Etruschi one-day in February.
“You know, I’ve been with Elia for most of his wins this year, including his first at Etruschi,” said teammate Tim Duggan. “He’s so strong on days like this, days that aren’t necessarily the straight-forward sprint finishes.”
The Liquigas train came to the front of the bunch 20km from the finish, towing Viviani ahead of rivals that included UnitedHealthcare’s Robert Förster and Skil-Shimano’s Kenny Van Hummel. Liquigas American Ted King said it was earlier than they had planned, but the team knew they would take control early in the finale.
It was Duggan that went to the front on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs, leading the team into a tricky closing 4.8km along the Yampa River. At 130 pounds and more at home in the mountains, Duggan peeled off with 4km remaining, leaving the work to Sylvester Szmyd, Davide Cimolai, Daniel Oss and Viviani. Oss laid down a blistering final leadout on Lincoln Avenue and Viviani came around for a 200-meter winning kick.
“Oss is sprinting really quick and Viviani just came off a European track championship and obviously was sprinting well,” said King. “You look at how many stages are going to be sprints this week and he was the best one for it.”
Viviani was the best one for the day, just as he was in Mumbai, India, in February when he topped Robbie McEwen (RadioShack). That win came a week after Viviani bested a number of Italian rivals and took the GP Costa degli Etruschi, with his teammate Peter Sagan, familiar to many American fans from his Tour of California exploits, finishing fourth.
It was Viviani’s stage 7 win at the 2010 Presidential Tour of Turkey, over Italian champion Giovanni Visconti, that was the biggest of his young road career. When the Italian was raising his arms on the eastern Mediterranean coast, Oss was arriving in northern Italy for the Giro del Trentino ahead of his first Tour de France.
Oss is another Liquigas rider who can vie for the points jersey Viviani will don before the start at Mount Werner Saturday morning. The team may support the tall, curly-haired Italian in Saturday’s uphill run-in to Breckenridge. With a breakaway likely scooping up all of the intermediate points in Kremmling and Dillon, the finale will offer the day’s biggest boon in the green jersey competition.
“Tomorrow is maybe for Oss,” Viviani said before looking toward Sunday’s sprint in Denver.
At the same time he is aiming to protect his green jersey, Viviani is vying for a place in the Italian national team for the world road championships this fall in Copenhagen, Denmark. He told VeloNews that he was happy to have chosen Colorado and the Tour of Utah over the Vuelta a Expaña to prepare for worlds and he hoped Italian manager Paolo Bettini was watching from afar.
“(Daniele) Bennati is the team leader for Italy, but the parcours in Copenhagen suits a rider like me and I hope to make the selection next month,” Viviani told VeloNews. “I think this month in the USA is good for me for the preparation for worlds. Now after this win, I think maybe I go to Copenhagen for team Italia. I hope.”
Beyond Copenhagen, Viviani will turn his focus to the track. He has split time between the oval and the road in his first two seasons as a pro and hopes to qualify for the new omnium event.
“After this road season I will probably ride three World Cups for the Olympic qualification,” he said. “I will ride the big races (on the road) in the first three months of the year and then focus on track for the omnium because it is very important to me and to Italy.”
Viviani said he hopes to earn a medal in the first omnium competition since the UCI reshuffled the Olympic track program following the Beijing Games. He said after London he would shift his focus to the road for the “five or six years.”
While he said he wasn’t sure exactly how to ascend to the level of the more established sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, Viviani has many years ahead of him in the pro peloton and time to learn.