Hopes were pinned on 21-year-old Caleb Ewan to score just as fast in his first Giro d'Italia as he did in his Vuelta a España debut last summer, but after one week and today's sprint in Foligno, those victories have gone to Marcel Kittel and André Greipel. Team Orica-GreenEdge, however, says that it is not worried about its Australian sprinter.
Ewan won the fifth stage of the Vuelta in his first Grand Tour year last season. Out of cycling's crop of current sprinters – Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, Greipel and Kittel – only one other scored in his Grand Tour debut. Kittel won in the 2011 Vuelta, when he was already 23 years old.
Today when the Giro raced into Foligno, Ewan had the early jump thanks to Luka Mezgec's work, but was washed away. Greipel took his second stage win, Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) took the podium spots. Ewan placed fourth.
"For sure, he's improving, the lead-out worked well today," Orica's sports director Matt White told Cycling Weekly. "Last year in the Vuelta, he finished in the bunch one day, the day he won. The Giro is new terrain for him, a lot longer stages and bigger depth in the field. He's handling some hard racing here.
"He doesn't lack anything. He certainly has speed, but he's going to gain endurance and strength with age, as well. And experience, he's only 21 years old."
Greipel who won today's stage is 33 years old. Kittel, who won two stages in the opening Dutch stages, is 28.
Ewan also does not have a full sprint train to support him because the team came with a classification roster for Colombian Esteban Chaves. In comparison, Kittel and Greipel have teams nearly custom-made for them.
"Yeah, but the team make-up doesn't have to do with him," added White. Orica's plan in the sprints is to bring Ewan to the wheel of the best sprinters with Mezgec. "Luka dropped him off with good position today, whether he did it with one or five blokes, it's irrelevant."
If Ewan is to match his Vuelta success, he may only have one more shot. The stage tomorrow suits an escape and on Sunday, the Giro time trials through Chianti. It is not until the race crosses Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna and reaches Veneto on Thursday, will Ewan have a chance. It could also be the last chance.
"The next opportunity is the stage to Bibione, for sure. There won't be an opportunity until stage 12," added White. "Afterwards, the mountains. Yeah, I wish him all the best with that!"
Ewan, with other top sprinters, will probably abandon the Giro early once it reaches the high mountain passes in the north. The team, however, would not say so.
“He just needs to gain experience and strength. He's 21, I think he's developing well."
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