Caleb Ewan has arrived at the Tour de France
Caleb Ewan’s debut at the Tour de France has been a long time coming, after his talent was neglected by a Mitchelton-Scott squad determined to race for general classification.
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But the move to Lotto-Soudal at the start of the season has proven an inspired decision, both for Ewan and his team.
After the departure of André Griepel to Arkéa-Samsic, Lotto were on the search for a young new sprinter to take over the mantle from the ageing German, and they have found their man in the 25-year-old Australian.
There hasn’t been a a dominant sprinter at the Tour de France, with all the big names taking a victory each, but Ewan pulls slightly ahead with a second win.
He took stage 16 in an emphatic way, starting a long way back and allowing a slight gap on the wheel in front of him, allowing him to pick up speed in the slipstream and slingshot his way past Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), despite the Italian having a perfect lead-out.
Ewan puts a lot of pressure on himself, as all great sprinters do, and this second victory is further vindication for a rider who could have missed his potential without the full support of a team.
Geraint Thomas crashes and Jakob Fuglsang abandons
Stage 15 was expected to be a more relaxed day for the general classification contenders, after a hard-fought battle in the Pyrenees.
But there are no easy days in the Tour de France and the winding roads around Nîmes proved treacherous, particularly for the overall favourites.
First Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) went down in a strange crash on an innocuous corner early in the stage, as his front wheel flicked away from him and he was bucked from the bike. The reigning champion was uninjured and, after waiting for a new bike, was able to chase back onto the bunch thanks to the help of his team-mates with no further drama.
Then disaster struck as Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was involved in a crash in the final 30km, along with Sunweb’s Cees Bol.
Fuglsang was surrounded by his team-mates at the side of the road and had taken his helmet off, a bad sign for the pre-race favourite. Race organisers confirmed shortly after that Fuglsang had abandoned the race.
While he had not been the GC danger many had anticipated before the race, Fuglsang had climbed his way into the top-10 and had the opportunity to improve on his best Tour de France result, seventh in 2013.
Stage 16 just shows that there are no safe days in the Tour de France.
Oppressive heat caused havoc
The biggest hurdle for riders to overcome on the Nîmes sprint stage was the heat, as temperatures hit 35 degrees at the peak.
Racing in the blazing sun was tough for the peloton as riders tried everything to stay hydrated, including slotting individual ice cubes under their helmet. Even stage winner Ewan said he had felt awful in the heat and had almost given up on the sprint, but instead persevered and proved himself the sprinter best able to handle the high temperatures.
The heatwave is set to continue as the race powers towards the Alps, with temperatures expected to hit 38 degrees on stage 17 between Pont du Gard and Gap, adding another dimension to an already savage race.
Peter Sagan all but wraps up green jersey competition
Peter Sagan winning a record seventh green jersey has seemed almost inevitable and the victory is now effectively his.
Sagan now leads the competition by 85 points over Elia Viviani, and now only needs to make it to Paris to take home the competition.
However, with three stages in the Alps still to come, the race is far from over.
Last year Sagan crashed on a mountain stage and was forced to fight all the way to stage 21 to keep the jersey and in 2017 he was kicked off the race for dangerous sprinting, allowing Michael Matthews (Sunweb) to take home the jersey.
There are still enough points on the road for Viviani to claim victory, but with the consistency of Sagan and the upcoming mountain stages taking the sprinters out of action for a few days, it’s looking very unlikely.
Viviani and Groenewegen fall short on penultimate sprint opportunity
The Tour de France has seen plenty of editions dominated by a single sprinter, whether it was Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish or André Greipel.
But one of the narratives running through the 2019 Tour de France has been the lack of a single sprinter who stands out from the rest to sweep up stage wins.
Before the race, if you had to select a single rider likely to control the race from a sprinting perspective you would might choose Elia Viviani or Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma). However, these two riders have taken a stage each but neither has managed to break through to prove themselves the strongest man.
Instead Caleb Ewan has crept in front with a second stage win, although its fair to say no single rider has been the clear strongest.
There is just one sprint opportunity left, the prestigious Champs-Élysées in Paris, and the stakes will be high with all the best sprinters still in the race after the first high mountains.
Viviani will be determined to prove himself once more, having suffered disappointment at the hands of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Ewan, while Groenewegen will want to repeat his victory in Paris from 2017.