Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) said he finally understood why his rivals find it so difficult to come off his wheel in sprint finishes, as he failed to make any real inroads once emerging from the diminutive slipstream of Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) during stage 2 of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
"I’ve never sprinted off Caleb before, and I can understand why it’s hard for people to sit on my wheel when you’re so small," said Cavendish, who still leads the race overall, in his post-race press conference. "There’s no difference once you move out of the slipstream to actually being on his wheel."
Ewan didn’t end up winning the stage because a premature celebration – which he described as a "rookie mistake" – allowed a rapidly advancing Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) to snatch it on the line.
The young Australian was picking himself off the floor when Cavendish was celebrating his victory on the opening stage of the race, but this time the young Australian took the fight to the more experienced man, launching first after his sprint train had led the way, and the 30-time Tour de France stage winner acknowledged he couldn’t compete.
"Today, in all honesty, without taking anything away from Marcel, Caleb was the strongest today," said Cavendish. "It was a block headwind finish, and I really couldn’t match him. I went to pass him, and there wasn’t much chance of doing that."
Cavendish, as he had done after yesterday’s victory – his first of the 2017 season – praised his "faultless" teammates, but admitted he perhaps found himself too near the front of proceedings than is wise for a headwind sprint.
"I knew when we turned right into a kilometre to go that I was a bit too far forward, and it was going to be a hard sprint because in a block headwind you want to come from further back," he explained. "Whether it was through prior tactics or no fault of his own, Marcel ended up behind and, with his strength, when he comes from behind he’s always going to come at 5kph an hour quicker, and that’s what he did there.
"The wind was harder than we anticipated, and it just seemed to go on for a long time when we had four guys, so I was actually quite relieved that Orica came over top of us – I could get on them. But even then, ideally you want to be further back in a headwind finish, but then you run the gamble of being caught in the wheels, so it’s maybe better to play safe, especially while wearing the jersey."
Summing it up neatly and magnanimously, he concluded: "Caleb was better, Marcel rode a better race, and I ended up third."
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