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Don’t discount youngster Gaviria for Sanremo

MILAN (VN) — Fernando Gaviria is only 21 years old and has never raced Milano-Sanremo, but he should not be discounted for Saturday’s monument based on what he has achieved so far.

In Tirreno-Adriatico last Friday, he over-hauled Caleb Ewan of Orica – GreenEdge and held off Sky’s Elia Viviani and Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan to win stage 3. The Italian stage race marked his WorldTour debut and was a steady and sure step in his power-walk from Colombia to the European peloton.

The Etixx – Quick-Step rider will look you in the eye. Looking back at his dark eyes and lightly bearded face, you would see a shake of the head. “I don’t know what my legs will be like after 300 kilometers,” he said this week regarding Milano-Sanremo. “A goal? I’ve never done it. Let’s just see how it goes.”

Etixx sport director Brian Holm called Gaviria the best neo-pro, or first-year professional, he has ever seen. His colleague Davide Bramati took Gaviria up the coast from his home in Tuscany to the Ligurian coast to see the Milano-Sanremo percorso first hand: from the Turchino climb where Fausto Coppi crossed solo in 1946 to the Cipressa and the Poggio climbs in the final 30km that often decide the race.

“We were there for two days. We rode the course a few times,” Bramati told VeloNews. “It’s good for him, he’s young. Even if he’s bad on the day, it’ll be a good experience for his future. I don’t know if he can win it. No one knows. He’s good, he’s strong. Let’s just wait to see.”

Comparisons draw in Mark Cavendish. At 23 years old and on his first try, the Brit won Milano-Sanremo. Younger riders have won the monument too, a 300km ride from Lombardy’s capital to the casino town on the Ligurian coast. Ugo Agostoni won at 20 years old in 1914. Eddy Merckx, before he went on to become a cycling great, won at the same age.

Gaviria captures the imagination, though. He reached cycling stardom on the track, which is odd for a country that produces gifted climbers from the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains. Instead of passes, he climbed the velodrome’s banks. He won omnium gold at the 2014 world championships and again this year at the London worlds.

Just when followers became tired of grumpy and soft-spoken sprinter types, Gaviria splashed into road cycling like someone cannon-balling into a swimming pool. In January 2015, Gaviria — while riding for Colombia’s small national team — won stage 1 at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina over sprint king Mark Cavendish. To make sure no one missed it, he did so again 48 hours later in stage 3.

Etixx boss Patrick Lefevere quickly offered him a contract. Gaviria did not shy away when opportunities came. At the Tour of Britain, he gave Etixx the Blyth stage win. Soon after in the winter, Cavendish confirmed he was leaving for Dimension Data and Etixx brought super sprinter Marcel Kittel on board. Kittel is convinced Milano-Sanremo is not for him, which leaves the door open for Gaviria to lead the team’s sprint game while Zdenek Stybar and Tom Boonen will represent its other arm.

If Gaviria wins Sanremo, he would be the first South American champion in the race’s 107 editions. “I hope my way of racing will change the way people think about cycling in Colombia,” he said.

More one-day classics are on tap for Gaviria this season. Said Bramati, “We’ll race him in Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem before he takes a break at home in Colombia.”