Caleb Ewan was hotly tipped to rival Marcel Kittel on stage two of the Giro d'Italia but couldn't get near the German - what can they do to reduce the gap?
With around nine more sprints to come, some riders are going to be scratching their heads and wondering how to beat Etixx-Quick Step‘s lead-out and sprinter.
Milan-San Remo victor Arnaud Démare (FDJ) finished second with daylight showing between him and the mighty Kittel. Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) took third. 21-year-old Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) tried to latch on to the Kittel express but was bumped and settled for seventh.
“I think today it suited him better than it did me,” said Ewan, who prefers a small uphill sprint. “He’s really fast on a slightly downhill finish. But I didn’t really even get the chance to sprint him today.”
Lefevere: Kittel is back to where he was two years ago
Many of Kittel’s rivals may be hampered by the make-up of their nine-man squad. Some teams have brought a sprinter but have not dedicated many resources for them to win stages.
Démare’s French team FDJ took up the majority of the work over the final five kilometres. Kittel’s men, and Kittel himself, had to muscle their way to the front when necessary.
“Marcel looks like he’s back to his best, and when he’s back there, he’s going to be hard to beat,” Orica sports director Matt White said.
“We have a team for the GC, so we are not using as many troops as they are. Our plan was to lead Caleb to Kittel’s wheel, and pop him on it. We will do the same tomorrow, we can’t throw everything into these finals, we have to look after our GC leader Esteban Chaves, as well.”
White explained that when the terrain changes, Kittel may be at a disadvantage. Out of all the sprinters in the Giro, he believes Ewan is the fastest out of a corner close to the finish line or on a slight uphill drag.
“The bigger guys take longer to get going,” White added. “Once Greipel or Kittel get going, they are hard to get past, but he’s more a similar rider to Mark Cavendish. That fast twitch and fast acceleration.”
FDJ, Etixx-Quick Step, and Lotto-Soudal brought trains for the flat sprint stages that dot the three-week Giro d’Italia. Some other sprinters have to fight for places behind their trains or surprise them when the course suits.
“It’s the same with Elia Viviani as it is with Caleb Ewan,” Etixx-Quick Step general manager, Patrick Lefevere said. “Dave Brailsford told me the same thing, that they didn’t bring a team to help Viviani, that he has to do it on his own.”
Kittel: I don’t fear anyone at the Giro d’Italia
It could become even harder for Ewan, Viviani or anyone else given that Kittel took confidence from today. It was his first Grand Tour win since the 2014 Tour de France. Last year, he fell sick and did not race a three-week race. At the end of the season, he left team Giant-Alpecin and Lefevere signed him.
“I have confidence, that’s going to be very important for my team-mates,” Kittel said. “They know that we can be successful in this race. We fought our way to the win today. I’m very proud of that, and we will have the same mentality for the win tomorrow.”
If Kittel wins again, he will also pull on the pink jersey thanks to the bonus seconds. He is only one second behind overall leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).