Just three days after stating "I'm not here for third place" and a day after celebrating his 25th birthday, Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan (Soudal Lotto) took one step closer to a stage victory in his first-ever Tour de France outing with a second-place photo finish to Stage 7 winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) on Friday.
Last-second hesitation and poor positioning potentially cost the New South Wales native a pair of wins on Stages 1 and 4, both of which he sprinted onto the podium in third. But in Chalon-sur-Saône at the tail end of the longest stage of the three-week, 21-stage Grand Tour, Ewan nearly pulled off the perfect sprint.
"We did it a little bit differently today," Ewan told SBS. "I just wanted them to basically put me on a good wheel and that is exactly what they did. Usually at the end of a stage, in the last kilometre, I can do it by myself.
"I followed the right wheels, started my sprint when I wanted to start it ... I think I almost did a perfect sprint, but Dylan was just a bit quicker," the three-time Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España stage winner continued. "The I am definitely frustrated not to get a win because I feel like I've got the legs to do it. It's better than if I was coming 10th or 11th.
"I know I'm right there, just with a little bit of luck on my side I think I can definitely go for a win."
Ewan's lead-out Roger Kluge, who followed the Aussie to Lotto this year following two seasons with Ewan at Mitchelton-Scott, was pleased with the team's delivery in the final.
"First of all, we did a bit better than the other days," said the 33-year-old German, himself a former Giro stage winner. "We put him in a good position into the last one and a half kilometres from the last turn. It was pretty hectic – super fast. Looked like a big road, but it felt pretty small. There were some narrow parts in between.
"The bunch always gets squeezed and it was important to be up there in front," continued Kluge. "I think we were probably top 20, top 15. In the end, he could launch the sprint finally and he missed out a few centimetres. I think we can be satisfied. Hope he is a bit more satisfied, but still we want to win. It's a little step forward, now we need another one and that's maybe on Monday."