Fernando Gaviria: 'Maybe I surprise everybody and sprint really late!'

Movistar sprinter noticeably jovial as he admits to sprinting too early at UAE Tour, with three further opportunities to make amends in star-studded field

Clock03:00, Thursday 22nd February 2024
Fernando Gaviria is leading the charge in the sprints for Movistar this week

© Tim de Waele/Velo Collection via Getty Images

Fernando Gaviria is leading the charge in the sprints for Movistar this week

Casually riding his bike around the paddock ahead of the stage 2 time trial, Fernando Gaviria was a man at home on Al Hudayriyat Island at the UAE Tour. Racing in five of the last six editions, and having spent four seasons with the UAE Team Emirates outfit, the Colombian is noticeably comfortable 13,600km from his birthplace of La Ceja, Colombia.

The sprinter may have cooked his legs with a lengthy acceleration on stage 1, before being passed with less than 100m to the line, but as he sat down with GCN to reflect on the opening stage, Gaviria was in a calm mood under the shade offered by his Movistar team's gazebo.

"I start when I feel I need to start and there is not too much time to think about it, it's like that," Gaviria replied when asked about the timing of his sprints. "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

Read more: UAE Tour: ‘I don’t remember such a competitive sprint field’ says Sam Bennett

The 29-year-old gave little sign of frustration having faded to sixth in the closing metres of the opening day's sprint. Rather, Gaviria was keen to point to the strength of the sprint field and the opportunities that are yet to come over the second half of the race.

"I was close but not enough, but it's quite okay because we try and win one day amongst the strongest sprinters," he said with a smile. "I'm happy with the team, I'm happy with the stage of yesterday and then for the next time, don't start my sprint too long and we will see what happens the next days."

Time and time again, however, the prematurity of the Colombian's sprint is acknowledged, in discussions with both Gaviria and fellow members of WorldTour alike.

In fact, nobody can help but chuckle when the subject of Gaviria's early launch is mentioned in conversation. First up is Bora-Hansgrohe's Sam Welsford, who chatted to one place ahead of the Colombian in the opening stage.

"Fernando is renowned for going early, I think you saw Tim do it at Saudi Tour, he can go really early as well," he said, with reference to stage 1 winner Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step).

20 minutes before Gaviria sat down with GCN, Merlier's team boss Patrick Lefevere carried a wry smile as he looked back on the Belgian's win.

"Gaviria helped very well."

Read more: Patrick Lefevere: Tim Merlier is a calmer sprinter than Jasper Philipsen

A reputation for opening up his sprint earlier than most is one that Gaviria has held for a long time, but it was completely on display in the stage 1 finish to Liwa Palace. Undeterred by the 22kph headwind that faced the riders on the finishing straight, the Movistar sprinter put his nose in the wind with 300m to go, and as ever, his initial burst was strong.

Sailing around the left-hand shoulder of Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates), Gaviria arched his back and stomped on the pedals as he carried an advantage of more than a bike length over Merlier heading into the final 150m. But 60m later the Colombian's charge would come to a disappointing end, with Gaviria sitting down and accepting defeat as he drifted into the chasing pack.

Forced to watch Merlier sit up and celebrate as he crossed the line, Gaviria could do nothing but bang his handlebars in frustration, pondering what might have been had he left his acceleration for another 100m or so. Though speaking the next day, he would rather make light of the situation.

"Now I need to change the plan and maybe surprise everybody, next time I try going really late!" he laughed, before answering the question as to whether he could leave his sprint a little later next time around.

"I really want to try but I don't know if I can. I always sprint long but I need to wait, because everybody is looking to me and I know that. We will see the next time."

Problems in winter ended with Tour Colombia success

Should Gaviria manage to contain himself in one of the sprints to come, he may be able to replicate his stage-winning exploit from the recent Tour Colombia, which saw the domestic rider pick up his first victory of the campaign.

After a winter that was far from smooth sailing, his opening-day stage victory ahead of Davide Persico (Bingoal WB) and Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) was an important moment.

"I broke my collarbone in [the Tour of] Britain and then after, I had an infection and I needed to stop my training. But this is in the past, now we enjoy the moment and these races before we arrive in Europe.

"The Tour Colombia I'm really happy with the race because it put me into another level as it's a really hard race, and with the victory, the motivation is quite high. Yesterday, I felt really good legs and it is the moment to enjoy, until I start to suffer in the climbs and the race is longer and harder," he said just 24 hours ahead of the peloton's ascent of Jebel Jais.

Read more: Mark Cavendish says Astana lead-out 'over-eager but learning' after first UAE Tour sprint

Gaviria finished comfortably within the time limit as part of the gruppetto on Wednesday's stage 3, and he will now look to butt heads once more with the likes of Merlier and Cavendish as the UAE Tour enjoys three likely successive sprint stages.

Taking a moment to touch upon his rivalry-turned-friendship with Cavendish, which dates back to the Colombian's breakthrough at the 2015 Tour de San Luis, Gaviria hinted that he would like to see the Manx sprinter win a record-extending 35th stage of the Tour de France this summer. That is despite the Movistar man revealing that his current race programme includes both the Giro d'Italia and Tour.

"We are really friendly because he knew me as a little kid and then now, it is nice and he was also strong in Colombia. It's actually good he won there because also for the motivation for him to try to win a stage in the Tour - and that [would] also [be] good for all the cyclists."

For all the important information about the 2024 UAE Tour, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub for our full preview, the race startlist and much more.

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