Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) had to settle for second place on stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday, when he was beaten to the line in an uphill sprint by Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe.
"It was quite a good pace the whole day long," Van Avermaet said on his team's website. "Mitchelton-Scott controlled the race, and Gijs [Van Hoecke] and Guillaume [Van Keirsbulck] set me up really well for the last climb.
"Actually, everything went perfectly for me. Michi [Michael Schär] did a good job closing some gaps, and I just tried to stay out of the wind for as long as possible, and then came to the front in the last two kilometres," he said.
"For me, the stage couldn't have gone better, and we executed our plan exactly as we said we would in the meeting. When you get second place, it's sad, but it's the way it is, and I was pretty happy with how the team and I performed today."
An attack from Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) with 3km to go looked as though it might prove decisive when it took Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Simon Clarke (EF Education First) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) with it, but Bahrain-Merida's Slovenian road race champion, Matej Mohoric, took it upon himself to bring the move back with 1.5km to go.
While Roglic continued to push the pace up at the front, with Lutsenko doggedly on his wheel, eventual stage winner Alaphilippe took up third place and the trio started to move clear again.
But Van Avermaet was able to fight back onto Alaphilippe's wheel, and with Roglic and Lutsenko fading, both riders opened up their sprints in the final couple of hundred metres, with the Frenchman taking it over Van Avermaet, with EF's Alberto Bettiol taking third on the stage.
Fifth place for Mitchelton's Adam Yates meant that the Briton took over the race lead from his teammate Michael Hepburn, while Van Avermaet remains adrift on the GC, 1:06 down on Yates in 17th place, with CCC having lost 1:12 to Mitchelton on Wednesday's opening team time trial.
"The finale was super hard, but I said to myself from the beginning that I wouldn't move with anybody unless it was a group of 20 guys," said Van Avermaet. "You have to choose the sprint and hope that everything comes back together. It was good to have Michi there still to close some gaps, and the group that went clear only took five or 10 seconds, so you knew with the final coming closer that they would be caught."
CCC sports director Valerio Piva was impressed by the work done by his team for Van Avermaet, and was philosophical in defeat.
"This was a stage that we'd signalled as an objective for us to try to win with Greg, and we tried to stay calm until the final kilometres," said Piva.
"Greg was calm, the team was perfect, but unfortunately today we found a very strong Alaphilippe again. Greg did the maximum, but Alaphilippe was stronger. You can't have any regrets when you are beaten by a stronger rider, and I'm happy with the performance I saw today."
Van Avermaet and his teammates go into Friday's third stage – 226km from Pomarance to Foligno – knowing that it should end in a bunch sprint, but are already looking ahead to the following, hillier stages across the weekend as possible targets for stage wins.
"Tomorrow is quite flat, so I hope to survive as well as I can," Van Avermaet said. "We'll see what happens in the final. We always have to be there to make sure there are no gaps, and then we'll see the next day. I think the day after is another good stage for me, and hopefully I can be up there again."
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