Mark Cavendish eased up before the finish line of stage 2 of the Dubai Tour, accepting defeat at the hands of Elia Viviani but at least satisfied that he had been able to make his sprint and go close to victory.
The Manxman was fourth in the results, with Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Riccardo Minali (Astana) passing him before the line. However, the official result counted far less than the success or failure of Dimension Data's sprint strategy, the watts produced during the sprint and his personal sensations. Cavendish was disappointed to be beaten, a clear sign he had a chance of victory.
"For me, fourth is as if I get second; I sit up when I know I'm not going to win. That's always how it is. For me it's win or nothing. This time I was beaten, that's it," Cavendish said after getting changed and before heading to anti-doping.
"I lost to Elia but it's not the first time I've lost to him, so I can't complain about that. It doesn't matter the reasons why he was better than me today. He beat me. I'm happy for him. I like Elia and it's his birthday, so I wish him a happy birthday."
Even a few minutes after the sprint, Cavendish analysed his performance, his team's performance and was able to highlight the reasons why he was beaten. His thoughts were analysis, not excuses.
"We had a fair drag strip race, I jumped and that's it, I couldn't have gone harder. I thought he was going to die but he just accelerated," Cavendish said.
"I think we're always at a disadvantage with the aerodynamic differences between our bicycles. We've got a five-year old bike and I know how fast that Venge goes. But that's not what won it. I should always be able to make up that advantage because I've got more watts. But today I was just beaten. That's it."
Quick-Step Floors make the difference
Cavendish noticed Quick-Step Floors strength in depth on Tuesday's first sprint and again today. He admits the Belgian team’s long-standing expertise in the sprints makes a significant difference.
"Quick-Step are strong at this race and it shows," he said.
"Marcel (Kittel) won here for the last two years but I think it's Quick-Step that made the difference. I won here with Quick-Step too (in 2015) and they've shown it again. They've been the strongest here so far."
Despite his disappointment, Cavendish was able to find some positives aspect to the stage, eventually realising that defeat is not always a disaster.
"The positives today are that the team was definitely better than yesterday," he said, opting for the carrot rather than a stick.
"They were probably a little bit too eager because I was on my own in the finale, in the last couple of kilometres. The positives are that I could find my way through. It was still sketchy, still hectic, with bodies everywhere but I know that from these races. Ultimately, these races are harder sprint because we bowl along all day and everybody is fresh at the end and everyone gives it a go.
"It was nice to see that I got a bit of confidence back and that the team did a better job. I have got the legs in the sprint."