Caleb Ewan: Grand Tour sprinter
Lotto-Soudal’s power-to-weight prodigy Caleb Ewan has proven his worth on the biggest stage and shown his old team what they’re missing.
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The 24-year-old hasn’t ridden a Grand Tour since the 2017 Giro d’Italia after his former Mitchelton-Scott outfit decided to chase general classification ambitions, leaving no space for a sprinter in their squad no matter how talented.
After spending 2018 season chasing consolation prizes in smaller races, Ewan returns to centre stage as the protagonist in his new team and he hasn’t disappointed.
Ewan’s small frame and nuclear engine also make him one of the more versatile sprinters in the peloton, so it’s not just the pure drag races where he will break clear.
The signs look good as Ewan makes his Tour de France debut later this year.
No more smiles for Pascal Ackermann on stage 11
The German sprinter appears to have been having a blast at his debut Grand Tour, smiling his way through this Giro d’Italia and generally having a lovely time.
But there was little to smile about for Ackermann on stage 11, as the Bora-Hansgrohe rider was forced to slog through the stage bandaged and bruised after his huge crash the day before.
More reasons for discontent followed part-way through the day when Ackermann was forced to fight for his points jersey lead against stage 10 winner Arnaud Démare.
Démare and his Groupama-FDJ team moved up at the intermediate sprint, shadowed by Ackermann and his lead-out man Rüdiger Selig.
But in a bizarre turn of events, Démare took maximum points (after the three breakaway riders) at the line while Selig stayed ahead of Ackermann to finish behind the Frenchman, with his sprinter further behind.
This inexplicable move by Selig meant Ackermann slipped behind Démare in the fight for the maglia ciclamino, and you can’t help but wonder if there will be stern words back at the Bora bus, particularly if the classification is decided by a narrow margin.
It looked as if Ackermann find a reason to smile once again when he positioned himself right at the sharp end of the sprint, but it wasn’t to be, as he faded in the dash and had to settle for third behind winner Ewan and Démare.
Démare now leads the points race on 194 to Ackermann’s 183.
Elia Viviani misses out on his last chance
The stage 11 sprint day looked to be the most unpredictable of the race so far, following the horrific crash that left Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) bloodied and bruised the previous day, Arnaud Démare’s (Groupama-FDJ) surprise victory, and combined with the gentle uphill rise to the line.
Out of the five sprint days in this year’s Giro d’Italia so far, Ackermann is the only rider to win multiple stages but looked to be out of the running for stage 11 as he licked his wounds.
The pan-flat stage began to gradually rise from 20km out, getting steeper on the approach.
A headwind in the finish as well as the terrain left the door open to more versatile sprinters like Viviani or Ewan, who can hide in the wheels before making a late run for the line.
This made for an enticing spectacle on the last guaranteed sprint finish, that is also expected to mark the exit of Ewan and Viviani from the race as they look to the Tour de France in July.
Unfortunately for Viviani, he missed his last chance at victory, as he moved up late and found himself trailing Ewan as the Australian opened his sprint.
Viviani was then too far back to move around and had to settle for fourth on the stage, in a rough week for the star sprinter.
He is now expected to leave the race without a win, which will be a huge frustration to the ultra-competitive rider particularly after his self-belief took him to four victories and the points classification last year.
(Don’t) want to break free
Another ruler-straight parcours, another doomed breakaway attempt – at least three riders were committed enough to leave the warmth of the peloton.
This middle period in a Grand Tour fails to encourage daring escapes or dedicated collaboration out front, and today was no different.
With three Professional Continental tier riders making the move right at the top of the day, they settled in for the unstimulating roads that lay ahead.
There was no risk whatsoever of denying the peloton for the break, despite them being allowed a five minute advantage early in the stage.
Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) was the only rider to really gain from the adventure, taking his total distance spent in a breakaway to just over 800km for this Giro d’Italia – the Italian is the clear frontrunner in the competition for the rider spending most time on the move outside the peloton.
….And now the race really starts
This Giro d’Italia has tested the patience of even the most committed cycling fan, with the opening 11 stage heavily loaded with sprint stages while skipping the traditional climbing test in the first weekend.
In what has been dubbed an ‘old school Giro,’ we’ve seen far more opportunities for the sprinters than we’re used to in the Italian Grand Tour and some monstrous-length stages that have caused the GC battle to stagnate before our very eyes.
We may have to remind ourselves who is even wearing the maglia rosa as we finally turn to the mountain on stage 12 (it’s Valerio Conti, by the way).
But fear not sports fans, mountains are coming.
Stage 12, from Cuneo to Pinerolo over a relatively-brief 158km, looks to be an odds-defying battle with a scintillating final 40km, which features a 9km climb averaging 9.3 per cent gradient before a testing 30km run to the line.
Looking through the rest of the route guide for the 2019 Giro, we see more of the same, with the first summit finish following on stage 13.
Stage 16 stands out amongst the rest, as the peloton will take on the Gavia and the Mortirolo in a 226km slogfest to Ponte di Legno.
The final half of this Giro looks set to overwrite the broadly uneventful opening race we’ve seen so far, so stay tuned.