As part of a series with InsideThePeloton, I’ll be previewing my favourite selections for next Saturday’s World Championship Road Race in Doha.
Caught between the race favourites (Cavendish, Sagan, and Greipel) and the longer shots (Groenewegen, Nizzolo, Demare) sits Colombian Fernando Gaviria priced at 12/1 with most bookmakers.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the Etixx-Quickstep man since pipping Mark Cavendish in San Luis whilst riding for Colombia. He’s picked up regular wins this year – including a showdown of the future greats with Caleb Ewan at Tirreno-Adriatico – but his most memorable moment may be his unfortunate and costly crash in the closing moments of Milan-San Remo. He’d already done the hard part by surviving 292km of Italian road in the front group and would probably have packed a faster finish than eventual winner Arnaud Demare. Whilst that ride will now be relegated to the history books, it did at least prove he has the endurance for mammoth one day races – something which will come in handy in Qatar.
With less than 45 race days this year – and no Grand Tours – Gaviria’s legs should be relatively fresh. What’s not apparent in his road results, however, is his serious effort to pull off a World and Olympic double on the track in the men’s Omnium. At the Worlds he delivered – defending his title emphatically – before falling to fourth at the Rio Olympics.
On the track Gaviria is an established star, making the jump from junior to senior World Champion in less than three years. On the road, however, Gaviria still looks a fledgling sprinter and, at just 22, would be an exceptionally young Road Race winner. Nevertheless, there are signs that age is becoming less of a factor at the Worlds with Michal Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan no older than 25 when claiming the last two titles. The latter, admittedly, is a cycling prodigy.
For further inspiration, Gaviria could recall Oscar Freire’s first World title in 1999 aged just 23. The Spaniard was a relatively unknown and untraditional sprinter at the time, and began his love affair with the Championships by upsetting a number of big name riders.
When Etixx replaced Cavendish with Marcel Kittel, Gaviria was sentenced to another year as the ‘other’ sprinter on the team. This was no bad thing, however, and he has shown his merits as a tougher and more rounded rider. After an August in the velodrome he returned to the track and beat a mixed bag of riders at the Classic Impanis in Belgium. He continues to win races that Kittel would never get near (he also collected a surprising sixth place finish at Gent-Wevelgem). Though Doha is a flat day out, its long distance and distinctly non-Grand Tour feel make it more suitable for Gaviria than his German teammate.
So is it realistic to back Gaviria to claim the rainbow jersey? To see a rider with his meagre road experience don the famous stripes would without doubt come as a shock. But how much stock should we put in experience when all other signs are pointing towards a good ride?
He might not pack the raw power of an Andre Greipel, but Gaviria does not lack speed. He knows he can beat Cavendish and holds a win over Sagan back in March. The Worlds is also likely to be an atypical bunch sprint and an uncontrolled finish could help Gaviria and his inexperienced Colombian team. His leadout is unlikely to be that strong and he’ll be hoping no other country manages to piece together the perfect train.
There’s reasons why the bookies are favouring other sprinters and Gaviria will obviously have to be at his best in order to compete. However, if he’s there or thereabouts in the final kilometre I’ll be backing him to make the podium.