Fernando Gaviria: cycling’s ‘bottomless pit’ of power

Anyone who watched Fernando Gaviria’s victory at Paris-Tours will need little convincing of the Colombian’s talent. 


As the bunch was shaping up for a sprint, Gaviria took off with 600m to go on the Avenue de Grammont and stayed clear from the pack to take the biggest win of his career to date.


He is hot favourite for the road world championships road race in Doha, Qatar, this Sunday.


Earlier this year, writer Carlos Arribas met with Gaviria and those closest around him to understand what makes the 22-year-old such an exciting prospect.


“When he crashed, he was definitely going to win”


When Gaviria signed for Etixx in the winter of 2015, after facing off with Cavendish in Argentina, [coach] Jhon Jaime Gonzalez was with him in Paris where he’d won his first Omnium world championship. They went on to the Belgian town of Leuven, to the Bakala Academy, where the team’s physiologists and trainers put new riders through their paces with physical tests.


Jhon Jaime spoke with Koen Pelgrim, the trainer from Patrick Lefévère’s team who had been assigned to Gaviria, and he gave him the physiological data from the cyclist’s training sessions. He told him that he could take whatever he needed, and that he would be at his disposal.


“But Koen told me he would stay with Fernando for the transition phase to help him when he needed to communicate, as there would always be a language problem, or to work on something specific here in Colombia,” says the coach. The strength tests showed that Gaviria wasn’t just a sprinter and could also train for time-trials.


“Fernando is 1.78m tall, which isn’t that tall when compared with the great European sprinters, and weighs 71.5 kgs,” explains Jhon Jaime. “In sprints he can reach up to 1,200 watts and has an anaerobic threshold at 94 per cent of his peak power.  He’s an excellent road rider considering he’s so fast; a bottomless pit.  He has more power than Cav, and this is what excited both the trainer and the rider, but he still has a lot he can improve on.”


He beat Cavendish and Sagan twice in San Luis [in 2015 and 2016], and at Tirreno-Adriatico, he defeated Caleb Ewan and Viviani, his long-time rival in the Omnium (pictured below), and Greipel in the Tour of Britain.


In March, he was also on the verge of winning Milan-Sanremo on his first outing at the age of 21. Hitting the Via Roma in the last kilometre, Gaviria was exactly where he was supposed to be, hovering just near enough to avoid wasting energy, ready to pounce. Right then, he crashed. “When he fell in Sanremo, he was definitely going to win,” says Jhon Jaime. “Lombardi, Sagan’s manager, told me that the Slovak had told him before the fall that they were all planning to sprint for second place.”


”When I remember my fall in the final kilometre in Sanremo, I give myself a pat on the back for the first 299 kilometres out of the 300, as I proved I could handle the distance, and that I was in the running,” says the Colombian sprinter. “We didn’t do well on the very last one, but that only motivated me to keep training.


“I’m a quiet person who has everything planned out in order to have a quiet life in the future. I always have several goals in mind, and an urgency to reach them, so I raise my game to achieve them beforehand and move on to newer, bigger ones. I always want to win something new. This is what motivates me every day to keep winning stages. I always want to be the best, to try something new. Ambition? I’m a cyclist because I like it, but I like it more when I win. Since I was young I’ve wanted to be the best and train to be greater.”


Gentleman champion


To everyone who asks how great a cyclist Gaviria is, Oliverio Cárdenas [Gaviria’s former manager at Coldeportes Claro] first speaks of how great a human being he is, and always relates the story of a stage on the Vuelta al Porvenir a Colombia in 2014 when Gaviria was just 19 years old, a story that for him is worth more than any victory he could ever achieve.


“There were a few kilometres to go to the finish and Gaviria, our fast man, fell and damaged his wrist. But he got up quickly, let the doctor treat him just enough and by riding alone at full tilt managed to catch up with the pack. And when he did,” recounts Cárdenas, who was directing the team from the car and had given the order to win the stage in Chiquinquirá, “his team-mate Rodrigo Contreras, who’s now his team-mate at Etixx, fell.”


Fernando stopped, waited for him and helped him catch up to the pack. But he was going so fast that he passed the bunch, taking team-mate Sebastián Molano with him. He was going so well that the two of them were alone on the home straight and there, in what was a truly magnificent gesture, Fernando, who was faster and had him beaten, let Molano win the stage.


“He told me that he’d let Molano win because it was highly likely he would have to withdraw from the race due to the blow to his hand, and he thought it would be unfair for someone who would surely abandon the race to claim the victory and the plaudits.  However, it didn’t turn out like that. Fernando didn’t retire.”


An extract from an article originally published in Rouleur issue 65.


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