The black and white stripes of the MTN-Qhubeka team kits were unmistakable from the overhead video on stage 1 of Tirreno-Adriatico as they formed an effective lead-out train coming into the finish at Cascina. With Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen at full steam ahead in the last kilometer, they seemed sure to capture the team's first big win of the year, but a roundabout scuttled their chances when young Italian sprinter Kristian Sbaragli lost the wheel and was unable to fight for the victory. American Tyler Farrar finished as the team's top rider in fifth.
Despite the mistake, team director Brian Smith was pleased with the showing and thinks that a victory will come soon if the lead-out progresses as it should. "This is the first time they've all gotten together at this level," Smith told Cyclingnews. "They were riding for Kristian today, and they all lined up perfectly and gained control. Maybe they went a little early, the perfect lead out goes from 3k in these fast finishes. They came off with about 5k to go.
"The damage was done in one of the roundabouts when Kristian Sbaragli got pushed off the wheel of Tyler Farrar. It pushed him a few [wheels] back, and when Edvald Boasson Hagen is going full tilt, there's no moving up. Then we went with plan B, with Matthew Goss with Farrar. Farrar went with 300m to go and still got fifth, but I would have loved to have seen that young Italian sprinter try to boss that wheel and not get pushed off. It was surprising to me, because he's a fighter. And he'll fight another day, but that was a great opportunity today."
Both Smith and Farrar were far from disappointed with the day's work; each echoing the other's comments regarding the teamwork. "This is the first time they've done the lead-out in race conditions today, and I thought they did a terrific job," Smith said. "That goes to show that these guys aren't finished yet. We were so close to our first big win with Kristian today; it's just a pity about the roundabout. I think he'll learn, he's still young."
Farrar said he was proud of the team's first try. "I wouldn't have expected it to go as well as it did, but I think that's our experience showing. Usually, if you take six guys and chuck them together in a race and say 'do a lead-out train' they don't do that well. But we've all done this for a while, and we know the drill.
"It got a bit hectic in the end. We lost [Kristian] off the back of the train, so we had to scramble in the last kilometer or two. We came up a little short on distance, but for a first try it was really good. A couple dry runs and I think it's really going to work."
Farrar sees a couple more opportunities for the team to get it right later in the week. "I see stage 6 as another straight up sprint. I'm not sure there'll be a pure sprint tomorrow, but we have Edvald and Reinardt [Janse van Rensburg] who's another young guy who's super talented for finishes like that."
Stephen Farrand contributed to this report.