In truth, Caleb Ewan was never in contention for the win on stage 1 of the Tour Down Under. Once the hammer went down inside the final kilometres, and despite the earlier work from his team, the Australian sprinter was on the back foot, and would eventually cross the line in 26th place.
Unlike on Sunday, when he showed a clean pair of heels to his opposition to win the Down Under Classic, stage 1 from North Adelaide to Port Adelaide demonstrated that the Lotto Soudal lead-out train still has a lot of work ahead of them if they and Ewan are to fill the shoes of their former sprinter Andre Greipel.
The defeat today was in sharp contrast to Elia Viviani and his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates who claimed the stage and the first leader's jersey of this year's race. One team was a well-oiled machine, the other full of promise but with no reward.
"In the final few hundred metres, I was way out of position. I was constantly trying to move up in the last kilometre. I tried to start sprinting with a couple of hundred metres to go, but I knew as soon as I started that I didn't have much left," an upfront and honest Ewan told the press at the finish.
"It's one of those finals that was really tricky when it came to predicting what would happen. It was pretty tough from the start, but then we caught the break super early. Then the race shut down from there," he explained. "Then teams were just waiting to start their lead-outs. We didn't want to go too early because of the headwind, and when it got really hectic there in the last two corners, we lost each other a little bit. I got squeezed off the wheel and I was left trying to catch back up."
Sunday's win at the Down Under Classic suggested that Ewan and his new lead-out train could hit the ground running when the WorldTour event began on Tuesday. Although Sunday's criterium was affected by crashes that held up several of Ewan's opponents, the 24-year-old was still well-placed and strong enough to win. One victory, and this one defeat, will not define Ewan's year, and the former Mitchelton rider suggested that his train was still looking for its rhythm.
"When we go back and analyse the video, I'm sure that there's something we can take from it. Every sprint is different, and you have to approach them differently. We'll just keep adapting and be versatile in the finishes that are coming up.
"It's hard to predict because you don't know when another team is going to put the hammer down," he continued. "If you're lucky enough to be a team that was all together, out of the wind, and it opened up for you, then that would have been the best scenario. But when you do that, you run the risk of not being able to come out. We went with the approach of putting our noses in the wind a little bit earlier. In the end, we just got lost, but that happens."
Stage 2 provides another test for Ewan and his squad. A win will alter the complexion of his race, but this is a long season, and there is of course still plenty of time.
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