Mitchelton-Scott's Daryl Impey scored a well-taken second place on the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on the uphill finish in Saint-Christo-en-Jarez on Wednesday, but admitted that winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) had been "too strong" to beat.
The South African always seemed to be playing catch-up on the run-in, despite the best efforts of teammate and recent Czech Tour winner Damien Howson on the final climb, while Van Aert enjoyed an armchair ride until opening his sprint from behind Jumbo teammates Steven Kruijswijk and then Tom Dumoulin.
"For the final run-in, I knew I needed to be close enough to Wout, but I had Egan Bernal and Michal Kwiatowski [both Team Ineos] between me [and Van Aert]," Impey explained on his team's website. "I tried to take a run on the right, and they also went right, so I kind of lost my speed. I came around them, but Wout already had a bit of a gap. I was running up, catching him a bit, but he was too strong.
"Everyone is pretty 'iffy' at the moment with how they're feeling," he said, referring to the racing break due to the coronavirus pandemic. "I think, for a lot of guys, it's their first race back. For me, I actually felt pretty good, so I backed myself a bit for the end there, and I actually had a good feeling.
"To lose to Wout, it's OK," Impey conceded. "It would have been nice to beat him, but to walk away with second today on quite a hard day was really nice."
Impey will now take on a domestique's role for the likes of teammates Adam Yates and Jack Haig for the rest of the French race, which now hits stiffer climbs and its first summit finish on the Col de Porte on Thursday.
Impey will nevertheless push himself on the mountainous final four days of the Dauphiné in readiness for a probable Tour de France start later this month. However, the 35-year-old will leave Mitchelton-Scott at the end of the year to join Israel Start-Up Nation, following nine seasons with the Australian WorldTour squad, with his wins during that time including two Tour Down Under titles, a stage at the 2018 Dauphiné and two national road race titles, with the highlight arguably being his Tour stage win in Brioude on stage 9 of last year's race.