One thousandth of a second. That was the infinitesimal difference between victory and second place, elation and disappointment on stage 2 of the Tour of Britain.
After throwing their bikes for the finish line, Cees Bol and Jake Stewart shared a sheepish look of uncertainty. Two hundred meters later, they were still stood neck and neck at the end of Newtown Street in the Scottish town of Duns, waiting to hear who had won. When the news of the victor came through, Bol and his Team DSM teammates shouted for joy.
For Stewart and his Great Britain teammates, however, it was consolatory fist bumps and stoic acceptance.
"That's bike racing," Stewart told Cyclingnews. "In the end, it was five metres too far today. Cees came fast behind me, pushed me all the way to the line and in the end, he was quicker."
Stewart finds himself as one of the leaders of a youthful Great Britain national team mixing talent with WorldTour experience, at the Tour of Britain. Connor Swift and Sam Watson protected and led him out in a slight headwind sprint after moving to the front well inside the final kilometre.
"All the lads worked really well," he said. "Sam timed it perfectly. I probably went a little bit too early, but I was a bit hesitant with this corner and guys coming over the top of me, getting the jump on me, especially Cees because he's so explosive. Really, it was five metres too far today.
The 22-year-old from Coventry had hoped to still be at the Vuelta a España, what would've been his debut Grand Tour, for his WorldTour trade team Groupama-FDJ, but illness forced him to abandon before stage 8.
"I've had a shit year, I think that's obvious from illness and all kinds of stuff going on," he said. "Just as I picked myself up again, I had COVID-19 before the Tour de Suisse."
"I put in a real good block before the Vuelta and was going really well, I went there with the hope of winning a stage," he said. "It was really disappointing to have to withdraw, it was just another spanner in the works.
"I didn't want the hard work to go to waste, I picked myself up and came here with the national team. It's always difficult with the national team – we're working with three lads who are under-23s, to try and gee them up and give them a good experience.
"It's not just about trying to win races because we probably don't have the strongest team to do that. We've got to use what we have. It went to plan today, we can't be disappointed."
After Stewart targets a stage win from bunch sprints or breakaways at the Tour of Britain, he may well stay in national kit for his next race. He intends to compete at the upcoming UCI Road World Championships road race in Wollongong.
"We're still waiting on selection so we'll see for that," he said. "The plan is to go. I was going well at the Vuelta and I'm going well here. I think I've showed myself to be a good asset to the team."
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1