Sprinters, like gamblers, tend to have a binary view of their occupation. They either win or they lose, and there is nothing between those two extremes. With sprints of rather higher stakes to come in the weeks ahead, however, Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) could at least draw solace from the manner of his second place finish behind Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) at the end of stage 1 of the Tour de Yorkshire.
At the end of a rugged afternoon of racing in North Yorkshire, Ewan closed a sizeable gap to the Dutch champion in the dying metres of the sprint along Scarborough's windswept seafront, but the finish banner simply arrived a couple of beats too soon. The Australian was second across the line, ahead of the surprising Chris Opie (Bike Channel-Canyon) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), while the spoils fell to Groenewegen.
"There weren't many people left to lead out so it was a super slow sprint and I think Dylan just got a massive jump on all of us," Ewan told Cyclingnews after he had wheeled to a halt past the finish. "I was coming back at him but I didn't get there in time."
On the eve of the race, opinion was divided as to whether the three categorised climbs on the opening leg would suffice to burn off the fast men ahead of the Scarborough finale. The last ascent, the short but steep climb at Robin Hood's Bay, threatened to splinter the peloton, but Ewan climbed with teammates around him and always managed to stay within touching distance of the front. Once the road flattened out once more, he was safely back towards the head of the race. He is aware that he will need to produce similar feats of climbing to maximise his sprint opportunities at the forthcoming Giro d'Italia, where he lines up for the second time in his career.
"The last climb was pretty tough, but I got over it in the front group so I was pretty happy with that. It was alright," Ewan said. Winner of four stages at the Tour Down Under and another at the Abu Dhabi Tour, the youngster's glut of wins was interrupted by an early abandon at Tirreno-Adriatico, but he is pleased with his condition precisely a week from the first stage of the Giro in Sardinia.
"I think it's pretty good. It was a good sign that I got over the climb in the front group. I suffered but I got there, and I still think I did a pretty good sprint after that. Dylan got the jump on me, but my form is pretty good."
Unbeknownst to Ewan, his teammate Magnus Cort Nielsen was a faller behind him during the sprint, bringing several riders down with him. Nielsen, Mitchell Docker and Mat Hayman were charged with piloting Ewan to the head of the peloton in the breathless closing kilometres, where few teams were able to bring much cohesion to the sprint. "I had three guys left with me, and they did an awesome job," Ewan said. "They went from pretty early and they stayed on the front for a while, so they did an impressive job today."
It was the second year in a row that Ewan placed second on the opening stage of the Tour de Yorkshire and, on each occasion, he was thwarted by the same man. Saturday's short leg to Harrogate should provide the sprinters with another opportunity, and Ewan will hope to have Groenewegen's measure on the gently rising slope to the line. The biggest win of his career to date, a stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España at Alcala de Guadaira, came on a similar kind of uphill finish.
"I think it's good for me, and to make it kind of tough there would suit my sprint," Ewan said of the Harrogate finale. "So hopefully I can go for the win tomorrow."