Caleb Ewan promisingly showed nerve and commanding leadership to win on a course not designed for pure sprinters like himself at the Tour Down Under on Wednesday.
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Ewan entered the second stage affected by a loss to André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) the day prior, and ultimately used it as fuel to finally fire after two near misses at the prelude criterium and race start proper.
“It’s probably more exciting winning on a stage you’re a little unsure about going into. This time last year I had a few wins by the time we got to the second stage, so I think my confidence went down a little,” Ewan said.
“But it was great to see the team’s confidence didn’t go down at all and they backed me on a finish that probably didn’t suit me that well.”
Mitchelton-Scott rallied around the 23-year-old as previous race leader Greipel was dropped over three laps of the hilly finish circuit in Stirling, which was made more difficult in extreme heat.
Ewan came around Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) on the uphill drag to the line, besting team-mate and pilot Daryl Impey, with Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) third.
“It was a tricky one because I didn’t know if I was going to get up there or not, and I didn’t want to make the call from the bottom because I didn’t know how I was going to feel,” he said.
“I know Daryl is always going to be good here and I didn’t want to make the call early on because I didn’t know if I’d get halfway up the climb and start sprinting and not feel good at all. I didn’t want to take his opportunity away, and also mine. It was a call I had to make really late.”
Ewan’s composure in Stirling will surely work to his favour in the long lead-up to the Tour de France, which he has finally been called up for this year despite Mitchelton-Scott’s overarching general classification aims.
The pocket rocket has impressed against Sagan, Greipel and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) previously, but is yet to test his legs against the likes on the main stage.
Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White said the outfit, despite its overall objectives, has the resources to properly back its fast Australian in July.
Impey is part of the Tour group but won’t mirror Ewan’s exact schedule this year.
“Luka Mezgec will do everything with him from when we get back to Europe all the way through to the Tour – he’s his traditional last guy because he’s a pure sprinter and Daryl isn’t,” White said.
“If you look at the depth we’ve now accumulated over the last couple of years we’ve got a strong group to follow Caleb and still support our GC guys.”