In Fernando Gaviria’s mind, there was only one clear shot at glory on this Tour Colombia. In a race deep in the heart of mountain country, the flat, opening leg to Duitama provided the only firm guarantee for the fast men.
Small wonder, then, that the finale to stage 1 was so frantic. Mark Cavendish‘s Astana-Qazaqstan train did their best to take control in the rain-slicked final kilometre, but they were swamped within sight of the line. Although Cavendish and company spent the past three weeks training at altitude, the effects of competing at 2,500 metres above sea level were surely still a factor here.
Gaviria, born and raised at altitude in Le Ceya, certainly had no trouble gauging his effort on the same finishing straight where Abraham Olano claimed the rainbow jersey in 1995. The Colombian tripped lightly from wheel to wheel in the finale, eventually tracking Davide Persico (WB-Bingoal) and then overpowering the Italian in the closing 100 metres.
Persico managed to get himself slightly hemmed in by the barriers and he raised a hand in protest as he crossed the line, but there was no compelling reason for the commissaires to revise the result. Gaviria held his line and, crucially, his speed to claim the first yellow jersey of the race. Persico took second, while Cavendish sprinted to third.
“It’s not that I did it on purpose. I wasn’t trying to close you off,” Gaviria told Persico beyond the finish line.
It was less an apology than a simple statement of fact. It was simply that kind of sprint. Gaviria found a gap and he had the speed to carry it home.
“It was total chaos,” Gaviria said when he took a seat in RCN‘s studio beyond the finish line. “With 2k to go, we were a long way back. But then I found a gap and I started passing and passing… When the sprint started, I said to myself I just had to go for it. I think Astana went quite early, but in the end, I was able to do a good sprint.”
On leaving the start in Paipa, the opening hour of the stage was run off at a searing 48 kph, but Gaviria wasn’t fazed by that early pace.
“It was a calm stage, well controlled by both Astana and Movistar,” he shrugged in the mixed zone afterwards. When Gaviria took a seat in the press tent an hour or so later, he added that he and Cavendish had struck an agreement to keep the break’s lead within a minute or so.
“I spoke about it with Mark beforehand, we decided that we couldn’t give the break a lot of space today,” said Gaviria. He was later held up by a crash with…