Before his exploits at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Elia Viviani was known to fans around the world simply as an eminent professional cyclist.
The Italian became an overnight celebrity in his country after he won the gold medal in the men’s omnium event – a track cycling competition consisting of both races and time trials – in August 2016.
“It’s something that’s out of the world for me,” said Viviani, who provided a touching moment at the Rio Games when he was pictured in tears on the podium.
“Suddenly everyone started to recognise me on the streets of Italy. It made me a well-known figure in my country overnight. I was known by the cycling fans and now everyone knows me.”
The Quick-Step Floors rider, who turns 29 on Wednesday as he competes in the ongoing Dubai Tour, said there was no greater achievement than winning an Olympic gold medal.
“The Olympic represents all sports, and it really is the biggest achievement in my career. I was only one of the eight gold medallist for Italy at the Rio Games,” he pointed out.
Shortly before the start of the Dubai Tour, Viviani left Team Sky to Quick-Step Floors where he has been made leader. It is an opportunity that excites him greatly. “The change was really easy for me to join Quick-Step because they are a sprint mentality team,” he said about his move from Team Sky, where he spent two years.
“I’m the leader and that feeling is really good for me and the for riders around me. It’s easier to try and win a stage with six people around me who are always ready to help me.”
Viviani, who rated Quick-Step and Team Sky as two of the biggest teams in the world, said one thing set his current team apart from the rest.
“Here in our team, we have a winning mentality every day,” he said. “That’s a huge difference. If you see the number of wins this team achieves, it’s a record every year.”
Viviani himself would like to win more races than he has in the past.
Having not finished first in more than nine races in a year, he was determined to better his record this season.
“My target this year is to win more than 10,” he said. “The form is good, the shape is good, and the moral is really high. I really want to win here in Dubai.”
Viviani will compete in 80-100 races this year, including the February 20-25 Abu Dhabi Tour. Already with one stage win and a handful of second-place finishes in the opening race at the Tour Down Under in Australia, the Italian said 2018 would be the ideal year for him to achieve his targets.
Viviani also said the level of competition in Dubai was “pretty high” as it included the best sprinters in the world. “If you win here, you win in front of [two-time champion] Marcel Kittel and [2015 winner] Mark Cavendish,” he said.
“Even the Grand Tours [Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana] don’t have these many participants. So that makes Dubai Tour a really tough one to win.
“In the last three years, we have seen Kittel and Mark, and I would like to get my name there as well. Personally, it’s a big challenge and goal for me.”