Fernando Gaviria got the better of Caleb Ewan on the first sprint stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, but will these two riders be rivals for years to come?

Fernando Gaviria (Etixx–Quick-Step) and Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) placed first and second in Tirreno-Adriatico stage three today in Montalto di Castro, Italy, but more significantly, they could have signalled the future of sprinting.

Cycling’s best sprinter over the last 10 years, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) led the sprint for team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen. He swung off in the last kilometre on the road through northern Lazio and essentially opened the door for a new generation.

Gaviria, who is racing his first WorldTour event, and Ewan, already a Vuelta a España stage winner, showed they have the goods.

“The future of sprinting? It seems like that,” said Zdenek Stybar, Gaviria’s Etixx team-mate and Tirreno-Adriatico’s current overall leader. “They are both very young. Gaviria is only 21. So is Ewan. It seems like it will be very difficult to beat those two guys.”

Gaviria, with a light beard, muscled his bike up the slight 7% grade with his hands on the brake hoods. Etixx sports director, Brian Holm likened it to Giuseppe Saronni’s World Championship win in Goodwood in 1982.

Ewan, slightly shorter, shot off Gaviria’s wheel and with his chest leaned down over his bars, nearly sprinted past.

“That low profile, it’s something I’ve been working on,” Ewan said as his team-mates, including Adam Yates, waited for him to ride back to the hotel. “He’s a bit bigger than me, but he’s still not a huge guy. He’s kind of in between the small sprinters and the really big ones.”

Gaviria’s team-mate Marcel Kittel has not only a bigger stature, but a bigger palmarès with Tour de France stage wins. Etixx signed him this year to lead its sprint team when Cavendish left for Dimension Data. Instead, they discovered Gaviria last year in Argentina after he surprised the cycling world by darting ahead of Cavendish in the Tour de San Luis sprint.

Ewan saw him the first time the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir, one of the top amateur stage races. He won the second stage ahead of his Colombian rival in eighth.

“This is the first time I’ve really raced him properly,” Ewan said of Tirreno-Adriatico. “Obviously, he’s super quick. He’s got a great team around him, as well. Obviously, thanks to Cavendish, Etixx-Quick Step has a good lead-out. He has some experience guys around him.

“It’s going to be his first full year as a professional and he’s going to do the Olympics, as well. Maybe you won’t see him and I go up against each other much more this year, but definitely in the future, you’ll see battles between us.”

Gaviria won the omnium gold in London last week at the world championships when Cavendish placed sixth. He said he only trained four days for it on the track and that Cavendish may have paid today for the extra effort he put in on the track. He is aiming for the gold medial in Rio de Janeiro this August. Besides that, he wants to dominate the sprints.

“The future of sprinting? I don’t know,” Gaviria said. “We are in 2016, everyone has his moment. I only like to think of the current moment, not the future.”