"I am really disappointed with my sprint, to be honest. I hesitated in the end and that really cost me," said Ewan, who finished third behind Elia Viviani and Phil Bauhaus.
"I had a perfect lead-out from the boys. I am disappointed to end that lead-out with a loss."
Daryl Impey, followed by newly-crowned Australian champion Alex Edmondson, were the two final Mitchelton-Scott riders looking after Ewan and delivered the race leader into position for the win inside 200 metres to go.
Ewan was like a striker left with only an empty net to aim for, while Viviani was the defender dashing in late and nicking the ball off Ewan's boot - a classic piece of Italian defending.
"I thought it was going to be a block headwind - that's what we thought it was going to be at the start of the day. I really didn't want to go too early and have another sprinter on my wheel and get rolled at the last minute," Ewan said of his approach.
"I really wanted to try and get my timing right and Elia got the jump on me and he was going a lot faster once I kicked so it was going to be a lot harder to claw him back in the last hundred metres."
In assessing his loss, Ewan added the oppressive heat, which reached close to 50 degrees on the road, could not be seen as a contributing factor. The unforced error was the simple explanation for him losing out.
"I think everyone was in the same boat. We are obviously all out there racing in the heat and although it was a shortened stage, it was still pretty hard because of the heat," he said. "Maybe, it was in his favour that it was a little bit shorter but, to be honest, I think it was just my stuff-up in the sprint that cost us."
Falling win rate
Across the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Tour Down Under, Ewan won all six sprint finishes he contested but in 2018 he is now one win from four.
Although the goal remains to win as many stages as possible here, Ewan and the team are looking at the bigger picture of his Tour de France debut later in the year. With a high-quality sprint field assembled for the Tour Down Under, and in-form rivals - as the four different winners suggest - Ewan is looking at the race as a stepping-stone to success in July.
"I can still take a little bit of confidence out of my results the last few days. I haven't quite nailed all the sprints I would have hoped," he said. "I am super confident with how the team is riding. I don't think I have ever had lead-outs this good before. All the other times that I haven't won have more been on myself than the team."
While the loss was a disappointment for Ewan, for the first time in his career at the race he has held onto the leader's ochre jersey for a second day. On paper, stage 4 is not a stage for him but, having shown his form with his Stirling stage win, Ewan could try to hang on to ochre. However, a support role for his teammates is the more likely option, with stage 6 his next realistic target in the race and a chance for redemption after Thursday's loss.
"I don't know if Whitey is going to want me to sit up at the bottom or just go for as long as possible. I need to ask him what he wants me to do," he said of sports director Matt White and the plan for the Norton Summit finale to stage 4.
"There is no point going too deep if I don't have a realistic chance of winning. We have guys like Daryl that can do really well on that stage as well."