Tel Aviv (AFP) – Elia Viviani said he wouldn’t have been able to win Saturday’s Giro d’Italia stage in Tel Aviv had he still been riding for British team Sky.
The emotional Italian, who won Olympic ominium gold on the track in 2016, spent three years with the dominant outfit of Tour de France champion Chris Froome but said he left to pursue his own ambitions at his home Tour.
And his dreams came true as he won the 167-kilometre second stage from Haifa to Tel Aviv in Israel — the first time a Grand Tour has started outside of Europe.
But having been left out of the Sky team to ride the Giro last year, Viviani wasn’t going to let lightning strike twice.
“Of course it’s never nice to be at home during the Giro, especially after the Olympics because at that point in my career I wanted to concentrate on the road to really establish myself,” he said.
“It sewed the first seeds of thought about changing teams but that wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was at the end of the season and discovering that Froome would be riding the Giro and once again I might be excluded.”
There are no hard feeling’s though and Viviani said he appreciates everything Sky and their controversial manager Dave Brailsford did for him.
“That doesn’t take anything away from the fantastic years I had with the team because if I hadn’t been with Sky, I don’t know if I would have won the Olympics.
“So my relationship with the riders, the staff and Dave B are the best.”
Viviani also paid tribute to his girlfriend of six years Elena Cecchini, herself a cyclist and a three-time Italian champion.
Having changed teams in the off-season, Viviani had a busy start to the year with Quick-Step, winning the Dubai Tour in February, taking the points classification at the Abu Dhabi Tour a couple of weeks later and then finishing second to world champion Peter Sagan at Gent-Wevelgem in March.
– ‘Heavy workload’ –
He’d also won a stage in the Tour Down Under in January and triumphed at Three Days of De Panne in March.
“It was a heavy workload for me, my team-mates and, obviously, for our respective families,” he said.
“And as I understood that you really have to make the most of your time off, it was really important for me having Elena, who’s a cyclist and understands these situations.”
Viviani admitted he had been taken aback by Israel since arriving in the country on Tuesday, and not just because he wasn’t expecting fans to be too hot on cycling.
“I’ve been a bit surprised because I had this idea but it’s changed: I thought that outside the cities it would be desert but instead it’s green, there are big roads and it’s great for cycling,” he said.
Race leader Rohan Dennis has also been bowled over by the Israeli fans’ enthusiasm for the race.
“When we’ve been to other races outside of Europe it can be quite quiet on the side of the roads,” said the Australian.
“But you saw today (Saturday) the crowds were huge, especially through the towns — it was like you’re in Europe!
“It gets a bit nerve wracking, they’re quite excited about such a big race being in their country and it’s actually quite a special feeling being a part of that as well.”
At one point on the only categorised climb of the day, a clutch of fans swamped the two breakaway riders battling for mountains points and from the overhead helicopter camera it was hard to make out the riders amongst the bodies in the road.
“It was crazy,” sad Viviani, “there were so many people coming onto roads — I’ll take that away with me!”