Marcel Kittel's second sprint victory at the Dubai Tour was much more chaotic than his first, but the German says he took more enjoyment from pulling out a winning effort, despite a late push to reach the front of the race.
On stage 1, Kittel's sprint win came after a clinical demonstration by his high-speed Quick-Step Floors lead-out train. Stage 2 to Ras al Khaimah on the coast north of the Dubai metropolis offered little opportunity to repeat the team effort, and Kittel was well behind as Trek-Segafredo would up the sprint for John Degenkolb.
But just in the nick of time, Kittel's teammate Fabio Sabatini intuitively veered to the left and dragged the German up the outside in the final kilometre. Kittel then opened up his power and speed and had clear run to the line to take the stage over Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNl-Jumbo).
"I can say I really liked the way we won today," Kittel said with pride.
"There was a moment when you think: 'It's almost over'. But today proved that's the wrong way to think about it. One of my old sport directors always said: 'Always finish at the finish line.' That's very simple, but also very true because until you reach the finish, you can always fight for the victory. That mentality kept me in the hunt for victory today. It's nice to win when you can jump from wheel to wheel."
"Today was just a different finale, there was no possibility to stretch out the peloton before the finish. As a team we came really late into the last corner and that didn't give us chance to do a pure lead out like yesterday. But we were still able to adapt to the situation. Fabio Sabatini had to go at 1.5km from finish. It was chaos but he still managed to bring me back up when it mattered. It was still very good for us."
Despite back-to-back victories, Kittel is not taking his early 2017 success for granted. The Quick-Step Floors team celebrated with hugs and high-fives, but Kittel knows that the fickle nature of sprint finishes and the strength of his rivals means things will not always go his way.
"We saw today that the sprints can seem over pretty quickly," he said. "The goal now is to keep on working and go day by day and be as quick as possible."
No rivalry with Gaviria just yet
Quick-Step Floors have now won seven sprints so far this season: two from Kittel in Dubai, two each from Fernando Gaviria and Max Richeze, and one from Tom Boonen in the Vuelta a San Juan.
The Belgian team has an abundance of sprinters on its roster, but this could set Kittel and Gaviria up as rivals for the position of protected man. They have different sprinting styles, and Gaviria will no doubt be Quick-Step Floor's man for Milan-San Remo and hillier races, while Kittel will get his chances in the flat sprints and the Tour de France, where he has proven his worth many times.
Kittel played down any chance of an internal rivalry, at least for now.
"We rode together last year and we had a laugh. Of course it's always a difficult situation when you have more than one sprinter in the team, I know that from my former team and from last year," he said carefully choosing his words.
"We're one team and we will try to make the best out of it and try to handle that situation, and we have separate race programmes. You saw in Argentina that they have Tom Boonen and Max Richeze for the lead-out there. They did it very well and that shows the ability of the team to handle it."