After all his hard work and preparation for the first road stage of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, a moment's hesitation was finally what made the real difference for Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) between fighting for victory and having to settle for second.
Viviani crossed the line just behind Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), clearly close enough and strong enough to be in contention in what was a very fast sprint, but unable to overhaul the German National Champion in the closing metres.
Anything but a bad loser, Viviani came off the team bus after a shower to answer questions to Italian television and several other reporters, regretting he had not taken the victory but wiling to analyse why it had happened as well.
What would have been his sixth stage victory in the Giro d'Italia failed to happen, the Italian national champion explained, partly because initially he had focussed too hard on the wrong man - Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates). Then, having hesitated too long, Viviani could not get on terms with Ackermann. However, Viviani also paid tribute to the German for what he said was a classy first Grand Tour win.
"I think maybe I waited too much and then when Ackermann came up with double the speed I just keep his wheel and try to jump him," Viviani told Cyclingnews. "But it was a tailwind and it's not easy to gain one position when it's a tail wind, so he had a good speed and he just kept going on the line with this speed.
"I tried to go over him but I lost by a wheel, maybe half a wheel, I don't know. I was close but it was too late.
"He's young, he's a fast guy, and probably from tomorrow he is another sprinter to add to the list of the favourites."
In an interview with Italian broadcasters, Viviani added that during the sprint he had also accidentally touched his gear buttons and dropped a gear from an 11 to a 12, costing him some extra energy at a crucial moment as he battled to get on terms with Ackermann. Either way, it was just too late.
He praised his teammates for working so hard in what had been difficult weather conditions early on in the stage and for keeping the race under control through the climbs.
Viviani had done his own homework thoroughly, too, and checked out the stage's tricky final part through the hills of Tuscany in a pre-race recon to ensure as little as possible was left to chance. But at the key moment, he had made a small error that cost him greatly.
"I do everything I could to get it right, I was in a good place to try to win but I finish second," he told Cyclingnews. "Chapeau to Ackermann, he's won the first Grand Tour stage of his career, I can only compliment him for winning a great sprint."
As for stage 3, there should be another bunch sprint, and with such a minimal difference, Viviani is determined to fight back. Or as the Italian defiantly put it, "It'll be all about gaining one spot in the results sheet."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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