Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) came close to taking his first Tour of California stage win on Sunday, finishing just behind Quick-Step Floors' Fernando Gaviria in the opening-stage bunch kick in Long Beach.
"It was a pretty straightforward race today on the circuits," the 23-year-old Australian said at the post-race press conference. "It was a pretty hectic finish because it wasn't too hard during the day, and it's the first stage so there's a lot up for grabs, but my team did a great job to get me to where I needed to be to do the sprint.
"Congrats to Fernando," Ewan said. "He did a great sprint. It was a good day."
The 134.5km opening stage took place on a flat 11.5km circuit in the large port town south of Los Angeles. There were no KOMs and just two intermediate sprints to liven up the action. A two-man breakaway animated the day, and Mitchelton-Scott threw Mathew Hayman into the chase along with riders from Quick-Step and Katusha-Alpecin. They brought the breakaway back with just under a lap to go, and the sprint trains took it from there.
Ewan said that, despite the loss, he believes his sprint train is equal to Gaviria's; his team just suffered a bit of bad luck.
"I got dropped off pretty much exactly where Fernando got dropped off," Ewan said. "We came from maybe a little bit further back. Roger Kluge had a puncture – I can't remember if it was the last lap or the second to last lap – which that wasn't ideal for us, as then he had to come back. We were kind of waiting in the middle of the bunch for him, and that meant our train got to the front a bit later. I waited for them, and eventually we got there inside the last K.
"But I think as far as strength goes, we are definitely comparable," Ewan said. "I think today we just maybe left it a little too late. But, yeah, I think we're definitely on par."
Ewan also has to contend with a bevy of sprinters who are an unknown quantity for most of the WorldTour teams. While the top five were all the usual suspects form the WorldTour, including Gaviria, Ewan, Sagan, Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), the next 10 or so places were riddled with riders from US Pro Continental teams. Jasper Philipsen (Hagens Berman Axeon) was sixth, and Ty Magner (Rally Cycling) was ninth among those in the top 10. Ewan said it's a dynamic he notices, but that he doesn't let it be a distraction.
"I guess when you race in a different country, or when we race in Australia as well, there are a lot of good sprinters there that you never race against all year, and then you get to that country and there are guys who maybe are dominating in the States or wherever it is," he said. "I guess it's not really a surprise, but you don't know which ones are going to be good and be up there or which ones are going to be just in your way. I guess it's something that while I'm here we'll kind of see which of the American riders are quick.
"It's not something that we really focus on when we come to a different country. But, yeah, there are always different guys that are up there."
Ewan will get more chances to test his sprint train and his own legs on stages 5 and 7, and, maybe with a little luck and some climbing legs, he'll contest the stage 3 finish at Laguna Seca Raceway as well.