For a few seconds there, it looked like André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) might just do it. He had struck out early, and from a long way back, but was neck-and-neck with Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) for a good few pedal strokes before the Colombian nudged clear in the final metres to win stage 4 at the Tour de France.
The headwind blowing down the finishing straight was perhaps the decisive factor. Greipel was several places back when he opened up his sprint on the right-hand side of the road with well over 200 metres remaining, and he spent a good few seconds in the wind before Gaviria, still ahead, emerged from the slipstream of his lead-out man.
It was a tense battle between the veteran and the rising star, and Greipel looked like he might have the better of it, but in the end the 23-year-old had the staying power, while a fast-approaching Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) managed to snatch second place.
Back at the Lotto Soudal team bus, Greipel cut a frustrated figure but made no apologies for going from range.
"I went early because I wanted to go for the win and not hesitate,” he said. “I was a bit angry with myself two days ago because I hesitated, but today I wanted to make it better.
"For a moment I thought I had him. But, yeah, with 100 metres to go I had one gear left, so I put it in the 11 and somehow he was a bit faster. I don't know if I was second or third, but it doesn't matter. I wanted to win."
Despite Greipel's wealth of experience, which includes more than 150 professional victories and remarkable consistency in the Grand Tours, he has been prone to hesitation and losing his confidence in the past couple of years. Marc Sergeant has had to encourage the German to trust himself and to be bold, and that was the message in the wake of the opening stage, where he was out of the picture in 26th.
"I told André to go for it, without hesitation," Sergeant said. "I’m pleased that he did it. If you lose that way that's sad, but that's it."
Despite the lingering disappointment, Greipel's performance was an encouraging one. After the opening stage he bounced back to finish fourth on stage 2 and now third on the third sprint opportunity.
After breaking his collarbone at Milan-San Remo, the German is clearly back in top shape and eager to get his Grand Tour tally ticking again after last year's Tour was the first three-week race in which he hadn't scored since 2008. There's also the small matter of a new contract to be ironed out, and a stage win would surely help secure the two-year deal and terms he has asked for but Lotto Soudal have reportedly been reluctant to offer.
"I know the form is good and I know my sprint is good," Greipel said. "I did a good sprint today, and there is no shame in losing to Gaviria."
After two hillier stages on Wednesday and Thursday, stage 7 is the next clear-cut opportunity for the sprinters, though Greipel insists he never looks ahead to the next stages.
After hesitating on day one and being arguably too bold on Tuesday, perhaps he will strike the perfect balance on Friday.
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