Ewan (Lotto Soudal) finished third in the bunch sprint behind Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and stage winner Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), who Kristoff had led-out before obstructing the Australian.
Aerial footage showed Ewan headbutt Kristoff once in the closing metres of the flat race to Abu Dhabi Breakwater. Speaking post-race, Ewan said he didn’t know who it was he’d clashed with but defended his own manoeuvre, similar to which the 24-year-old was relegated for at January's Tour Down Under.
“It’s an old tactic I think, the lead-out man coming in and trying to stuff up the other sprinters. At the end of the day, it’s dangerous because he was coming into us on the barrier and there was no need for it,” Ewan said.
“Gaviria proved today that he was the fastest in the end, so there is no need for his lead-out guy to come in and almost cause a crash. I was sprinting full gas and he was coming in onto the barrier. I don’t think it was necessary, and he should know better than that.”
Kristoff appeared to have a lighter take on the subject after he and new UAE Team Emirates signing Gaviria proved they can work together on the same team despite being stars in their own right.
“I could move completely out of the way but then I’m less helpful. It’s always like this. [Ewan] could be a little bit irritated but that’s the sprint,” Kristoff said.
“I think he wanted to move up, but I was in the way. It’s good when your lead-out man is a little bit in the way for the guys behind. So, I tried to do it the same way. I was a little bit boxing him in, so he had to move later than he wanted. Maybe that helped Gaviria win.”
Ewan admitted he didn’t have the legs to contest the victory in what was a headwind finish following a 184km of both dawdling and crosswinds, which had split the peloton to pieces at about the mid-point of the race.
“It was super easy or super hard. Coming in here, everyone had pretty fresh legs so that always makes for a pretty hectic sprint, especially with so many good sprinters,” Ewan said.
“It was superfast and very hectic because you really had to time your lead-out to perfection. If you go too early, you’re going to probably die in the end. I was following Adam [Blythe] for most of it, and he was just playing off the other lead-outs.
“I was probably a little bit too far back with one kilometre to go, in ideal terms, but I got onto the wheel of Viviani. I knew once they started sprinting my legs were already pretty dead, so I wasn’t going to be in contention for the win.”
Ewan will have another shot at victory on stage five.
“We are always trying to be as far forward as possible in that last kilometre and we were a bit too far back today. The positives to take out of it were we didn’t really use all our guys,” he said.
“We went for the riskier option in trying to stay in the wheels a lot more and that meant I really just used Adam in the end, then Roger [Kluge] came up as well. I think next time we can probably use our full force.”
Kristoff and Gaviria one-two punch lands
The Stage 2 win was Gaviria’s third victory with UAE Team Emirates, which he has joined this season on a three-year deal. The squad is determined to make a firm impression at its ‘home’ race.
“I got a perfect lead-out to sprint in optimal conditions. Before Alexander Kristoff, the whole team did a great job all day. I started sprinting with about 200m to go. I have the legs for more victories before the end of the UAE Tour,” Gaviria said.
There had been speculation as to how, or if at all, Gaviria and Kristoff – both different albeit proven sprinters in their own right– could operate harmoniously in races they cross over on.
Australian sports director Neil Stephens had previously shared a best-case scenario with Cycling Central, which eventuated in the headwind finish that saw Sam Bennett (BORA-hansgrohe) fade to sixth and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) eighth.
“If you combine the power of the two of them and put it together in a print, we hope it’s going to be pretty hard to beat,” Stephens had said.
Kristoff, who is accustomed to sprinting for the win himself, said neither his approach nor mentality changed in the finish where he as a lead-out man also moved to obstruct Ewan.
“A sprint is a sprint and I have to do the same more or less getting into position. I like to sprint for my own result but here we have a faster guy in the team, in the same race,” the Norwegian said. “We have a very strong team here, so I just have to try and do my best job. I’m sure I’ll get my chances later on.”
Roglič in the GC box seat for Stage 3
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) retained the overall lead following the flat 184km stage, which was animated by crosswinds at about the mid-point of the race.
The peloton had let the gap to a four-man break go out to about 11 minutes before the conditions changed the tempo.
The peloton recovered from the flutter of excitement and sought a bit of respite before reeling in the last two escapees with about 14km remaining.
Roglič can expect attacks on stage three today, and the first mountain-top finish of the tour that travels to Jebel Hafeet. Tom Dumoulin’s Sunweb team will be among those looking to put pressure on the Slovenian leader.
“I’ve never done that climb, tomorrow will be my first time. We’ll see. I don’t really have to attack but there are a lot of good riders and for sure they will,” Roglic said.
“My first race [of the season], I can’t really say how I’ll be, but we’ll see how my legs are and for sure I’ll give my best.”