Even as reigning road world champion, Mark Cavendish showed how hard it is to be a sprinter and in the same team as someone vying for the overall classification at a Grand Tour.
The year was 2012 and the race was the Tour de France. Even before then, the set-up at Team Sky was noticeably different to that at High Road, where among a cast of stars he remained the undisputed top dog between 2008-11, amassing 30 individual Grand Tour stage victories with 20 of those from La Grande Boucle alone.
"It was always going to be the same problem for Caleb Ewan at this year's Giro d'Italia, only worse."
When he was dropped on the climb of Le Manie in Milan-San Remo, a race he won on debut back in 2009 when critics said the course would be too long and too tough for him, it was clear this was not the Cavendish of old. But, true to form, the Manxman bounced back at the Giro to reap another three stages - despite the irregular move of Roberto Ferrari on Stage 3 that saw him hit the deck, then almost hit the Italian, quite literally.
There was no chance of not being selected to ride the Tour; nonetheless, he was specifically told that Bernhard Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen aside, he would receive minimal support in the sprint stages, as Team Sky's primary objective was to win overall. He won the second stage to Tournai but longtime arch-rival André Greipel, who, unlike he, enjoyed the full support of his Lotto-Belisol sprint train, got the better of him on Stages 4, 5 and 13, which, if anyone knows Cavendish, would've done his head in.
It took him another 18 days to win his second stage. On a 222.5km up-and-down parcours that contained four categorised climbs and the day before the final individual time trial, everyone seemed knackered except for Cav', who mowed down the break's final two remains in the home straight - yes, on his own! - and sailed to his 22nd win at Le Tour.
"I wasn't able to show anything in this Tour because we had the yellow jersey. I haven't done anything this Tour because I saved so much energy. I knew I'd be able to go long. I knew I'd get it," he said. Team leader and maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins won the TT from Bonneval to Chartres, before Cavendish won a fourth consecutive sprint on the Champs-Élysées, the first person to do so.
Still, Cav' wanted more. His relationship with Team Sky was over by season's end, coinciding with a move to Omega Pharma–Quick Step.
It was always going to be the same problem for Caleb Ewan at this year's Giro d'Italia, only worse. Cavendish was in his pomp and, when he needed to, could surf the wheels almost as well as Robbie McEwen a decade earlier. Ewan is six years younger than the Cav' of 2012 and is in only his second Grand Tour, as opposed to the then 27-year-old Manxman, who was riding his twelfth 'Grandie'.
Last night, at the end of Stage 2, even though he didn't get a chance to flick on the afterburners, Ewan, who ran seventh in Nijmegen, already had to do so much work just to be there; Sam Bewley and Luka Mezgec did what they could but against the fully fledged powerhouses of Etixx-Quick Step, Lotto-Soudal and FDJ it was not nearly enough. To see him "bumped off" the wheel of Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF), as now Cycling Central commentator McEwen bluntly put it, only added salt to the wound of his ego - he now needs to show he can bump back, says the winner of 12 stages at the Giro and Tour.
If this Giro is a learning experience for Ewan more than a results-driven one, then it's a bloody tough school to attend. An experienced hand like Mark Renshaw or Greg Henderson who could show someone like Mezgec or Alex Edmondson the ropes of Grand Tour lead-outs may have made Caleb's debut a little less hard. Still, there's another six stages tipped to end in a bunch gallop including Stage 3 tonight, and I'll expect nothing less than to see him bounce - and bump! - back.