Caleb Ewan took a long-awaited stage victory to take the pressure off his shoulders in his first Tour de France.
Having come close in the previous days, Lotto-Soudal sprinter Ewan topped Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) by centimetres to win stage 11 in Toulouse.
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“It was disbelief, and a huge weight off my shoulders,” Ewan said.
“I came to my first Tour de France as a leader for my team. The team basically hired me cause they had faith I could win at the high level and up until now I haven’t been able to do it for them.
“That’s a lot of pressure, to come here and win. I’m so happy that they put the faith in me and I could repay them with the victory.”
The Australian left home team Mitchelton-Scott to have a chance to race the Grand Tours, as Mitchelton had not taken him to a three-week race since the 2017 Giro d’Italia, instead focusing on its general classification riders Adam and Simon Yates, and Esteban Chaves.
Lotto-Soudal took him back to the Giro d’Italia in May, where he won twice, and to the Tour for the first time. He now counts wins in all three Grand Tours.
“This shouldn’t have been my first Tour de France, I believe I was ready three to four years ago. I finally got my chance after feeling like I was held back, and I’ve done it. This is a dream come true,” Ewan said.
“Now if I go home with just this one win, the Tour has been a success for me. I’m not going to stop now, I’m going for the next two opportunities full gas and try to win. But now this is a weight off my shoulders, and I didn’t want to carry that through the Pyrenees and Alps to come, I’m happy to have it off my mind.”
Ewan did it all without his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst, who was lost to a crash just outside the final 10km. Instead, he made sure he was on Dylan Groenewegen’s wheel.
“Quick-Step came up and tried to take the wheel off me. I fought them off, I knew I was on the right wheel,” he explained.
“I ended up on Dylan’s wheel coming out of the right corner, where I needed to be. It’s hard to beat Dylan, he goes long, his team led him out well, his team was on the front for 20km. It wasn’t going to be easy to beat him.
“I had to use some sprint tactics. I let him start a little before me and get a gap, and I could sprint in to his slipstream and come past him quite quick.”
Former Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen, now a race commentator, came in to congratulate behind the podium. Ewan now rides in the team where another famous Australian, Cadel Evans, began his rise as a stage racer.
“There’s no other race that I’ve dreamt of winning since I was a young kid. The Tour de France was something that was so distant, from Australia, something we just watched on TV,” continued Ewan.
“I can’t believe I’m even here, and to win a stage is a real dream come true for me.”