After going toe-to-toe on the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne, Marcel Kittel and Caleb Ewan have endured a frustrating two stages in the World Tour race, losing out both times to IAM Cycling's Matteo Pelucchi.
On yesterday's stage 2, Orica-GreenEdge did the lion's share of the work in the closing stages, only for Ewan to crash as he was about to open up his sprint. Kittel's own sprint was hampered by the ensuing pile-up and he ended up being edged out by Pelucchi.
Whereas Kittel shouted at the Italian for supposedly deviating from his line yesterday, on stage 3 he and Ewan will have been cursing Petr Vakoc. The Czech national champion accelerated on a relatively gentle climb approaching the final kilometre and caused a split in the front of the bunch on what was the last certain bunch gallop of the seven-stage tour. Things came back together but by the time did so Kittel and Ewan had both lost their respective teammates.
"I'm actually very disappointed because the team worked so hard and I couldn't finish it off," Kittel told reporters after a third and possibly final trip to the podium to pull on the yellow jersey.
"I lost my team on the little climb to the last kilometre because someone came in between me and my leadout man. Then I had to go all the way by myself until the last kilometre, then I was simply not strong enough anymore."
It was uncertain how Ewan would fare after coming down heavily on Monday and crossing the line shaken up. But he was clearly up for it as Orica once again led for much of the last 10 kilometres, only to lose each other and leave the 21-year-old neo-pro helplessly watching on.
"Caleb felt OK and he didn't have any significant problems so the guys were definitely keen to have another shot at it," said directeur sportif Matt Wilson.
"We had a plan going in not to really commit a full lead out in the final because it was downhill and really hard to do. We tried something different. We tried to sit back behind but unfortunately the guys lost each other on the climb so it didn't really work out."
Kittel, who feels he has been the fastest over the opening days, will be disappointed not to have added to his opening-day win, though after a season and a drought such as his, he can just be satisfied to remember how it feels to cross the line with arms aloft.
"I won the first stage, yesterday I was unlucky, and today I wanted more," he said. "That's something that happens – it can't be perfect every day. It's also wrong to expect we'd win the first three stages in a row because the competition is high. I think I can be satisfied, I had a good start now, my first win since a long time, but of course I also really wanted to win yesterday and today."
The fourth stage features a rolling parcours with three categorised climbs before a flat 30km drag to the line. With two mountain stages and a final-day time trial to follow, the sprinters teams will be eager to attempt to bring about a final bunch kick and Orica may be particularly keen to take advantage of Ewan's superior climbing ability compared to Kittel.