If mistakes are a necessary evil of improving, then Caleb Ewan got a mighty one out of the way on the second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour as a premature celebration cost him a victory against the leading lights of the sprinting world.
The 22-year-old had pinged off a dominant Orica-Scott leadout and was impressively holding off Mark Cavendish but as he began to lift his hands from the bars and sit up he saw Marcel Kittel come through to snatch it on the line.
“It was a bit embarrassing more than anything,” Ewan told reporters after putting on a brave face for the podium ceremony, where he pulled on the white jersey for best young rider. “Now I have to go back to my team and explain what I did.”
“I’m usually good at sprinting all the way to the line but he was coming with a fair bit of speed and I didn’t quite see him coming. It was a massive rookie mistake on my part.”
Ewan is now in his third season as a professional and has undergone a steady development, with his stage win at the 2015 Vuelta a España his biggest achievement to date. However, despite dominating the last two editions of the Tour Down Under, he is yet to get the better of Cavendish or Kittel in a head-to-head, and this looked to be the moment that breakthrough would come.
As it was, it was the other two who found themselves invited to the post-race press conference – Kittel for winning the stage, Cavendish for leading the race overall – and they both had plenty of sympathy.
“It’s one of the mistakes that every sprinter does,” said Kittel.
“I don’t think I’ve lost a race because of it since I was a junior,” added Cavendish, who felt that Ewan was the fastest on the day. “I did it in the junior Tour of Ireland, but I have won a couple of times because of it – Scheldeprijs in 2008 I think, when Tom did it.”
Despite letting such a golden opportunity slip through his fingers in such a way, Ewan was relaxed – if a little embarrassed – about the whole thing and was even ready to joke about it. And there were certainly plenty of positives to take from a performance where it was just folly – not ability – that cost him.
“It gives me a lot of confidence. I’ve pushed the best sprinters in the world right to the line,” said Ewan.
“My teammates really supported me from the start – even when I told them It was unlikely I would sprint today. And we saw at the end they gave me a perfect leadout. Full credit to them because Cav and Kittel and Greipel all have their best leadout men here. We took it up at the front and they couldn’t come round us in the end, but obviously it was my stuff-up at the end that cost us.
As Kittel said: “I’m sure it will never happen to him again.”
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