Caleb Ewan was already cloistered aboard the Orica-Scott motorhome past the finish line in Harrogate when an emissary from the Tour de Yorkshire race organisation rapped on the door to inform him that he had picked up enough time bonuses to divest Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) of the leader’s jersey.
For a sprinter, the general classification is merely an afterthought. In the here and now, Ewan was digesting a second successive second place finish, but he wore his disappointment lightly as he soft-pedalled back to the podium to accept the unexpected consolation prize of the blue jersey.
Like at Scarborough on Friday, Ewan was left with simply too much ground to make up in the final 300 metres in Harrogate. On stage 1, he had at least been able to close to within inches of Groenewegen by the finish, but Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) already had a winning lead by the time Ewan had launched his effort in earnest on the uphill finish here.
“It’s pretty disappointing because I had good legs,” Ewan said. “I think we stuffed up a little bit in the finish. When there was that dip with 600 metres to go we really needed to use the speed we had and keep going but instead we hesitated and we got swamped. Once I got boxed in, it was too hard to get back, especially once the momentum was off, so it’s a bit disappointing.”
The lightly-climbing finish on Parliament Street was expected to favour both Bouhanni and Ewan, but it was perhaps the slight drop before the final kick to the line that proved decisive. Bouhanni was well-placed and then quick to respond when Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie) went from distance, while Ewan found himself on the back foot. It was all the more frustrating given how assuredly Orica-Scott had ridden at the head of the peloton, shutting down the repeated attacks during a rather breathless final half hour of racing.
“In the last 15 kilometres there were lots of attacks. We kind of just stayed together rand we pretty much nailed it until that last bit,” Ewan said. “Instead of going in that dip and using the speed we had, we kind of slowed a little bit, and once we wiped off our speed it was way too hard to come back.
“We either wanted to take it from the front or come from pretty far back and use the run up off the ramp up that steep bit at the finish. The guys were feeling good and we took the front there. That’s two seconds in a row now. I’ve been feeling pretty good the last two days and it would have been nice to finish it off with a win today.”
Ewan will carry an overall lead of two seconds over Bouhanni and Groenewegen into Sunday’s final leg between Bradford and Sheffield, but none of that trio will expect to be in the shake-up for overall honours given the severity of a stage that includes no fewer than eight categorised climbs.
“It’s super tough and I think I’d be kidding myself if I thought I could keep the jersey as well,” Ewan smiled when asked about his prospects of pulling off a surprise.
Just six days from the start of the Giro d’Italia, the 194.5-kilometre stage will instead double as Ewan’s final significant block of training before the corsa rosa. Although Orica-Scott’s team will be built primarily around Adam Yates’ general classification challenge, Ewan will set out from Sardinia as one of the marquee sprinters in the field and will seek to add the Vuelta a España stage he won on his Grand Tour debut in 2015.
“You know this is probably the last preparation for the Giro,” Ewan said. “I’ll go hard tomorrow and see how deep I can go and how far I can go into the stage.”