Caleb Ewan fires Tour Down Under warning in Schwalbe Classic
Australian gets 2023 season off to a winning start while Kiwi Ally Wollaston wins women's race
Caleb Ewan sent a warning shot to his rivals on Saturday after easily outsprinting the field at the Schwalbe Classic, a prelude to the Tour Down Under, without the aid of his trade team.
Ewan won the street criterium in a bunch kick wearing Australian national colours, not that of his Lotto Dstny squad, which after being relegated from the WorldTour at the end of last season is not required to be in Adelaide.
Jordi Meeus (Bora-hansgrohe) was second and Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) third.
Earlier, in the women’s race, the New Zealand national squad turned its luck around with Ally Wollaston taking line honours ahead of Michaele Drummond (Zaaf) and Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health).
Ewan will compete for the composite Australian national team while here. Lotto Dstny opted not to send a team over, a spokesman told Cycling Weekly, for “various reasons”.
“First of all, we have a new sponsor, new performance staff, new collaboration with the University of Ghent and a lot of new riders. Because of all of these changes, we wanted to be able to have as many riders and staff members as possible with us during the final training camp in Spain, which is going on right now,” the spokesman said.
Ewan is not completely unfamiliar with the young and comparatively inexperience riders in his composite squad that will start the men’s Tour Down Under proper on Tuesday, with Lotto Dstny teammate Jarrad Drizners also part of the line-up.
“Our ProTeam status gives us the possibility to choose our own racing program,” the Lotto Dstny spokesman continued.
“At the same time, Caleb and also Jarrad really wanted to do TDU. With them riding for the national team we have found a possibility where we have as many riders and staff members in Spain and Caleb and Jarrad in TDU as well.
“They will have the support of our sports director Allan Davis in Australia and also the points they would score for the UCI ranking will be added to the team’s total.
“All in all, this is the best solution for both the team, the team’s ranking, our riders and the TDU.”
The Schwalbe Classic victory, while not contributing to any UCI points score, will serve as valuable momentum for Ewan following a few luckless and crash-marred seasons.
The 28-year-old ended last season as he has started this one – winning – and through 2022 claimed six victories. However, his focus has always been on quality over quantity victories. He places emphasis on grand tours, and in those he has recently struggled.
Ewan’s last grand tour stage win was on stage seven of the 2021 Giro d’Italia, which he abandoned the next day, citing knee pain. He left the ensuing Tour following a high-speed crash on stage three in which he fractured his collarbone in four places.
However, the five-time Tour stage winner was a vision of cool and calm on Saturday as he waved to fans who loudly applauded the home hero from the sidelines.
“I really like racing with a young team and sometimes with older pros they just kind of turn up,” Ewan said post-race.
“My team was quite good in the crit and it’s going to be a big learning curve for them.
“I hope I can help with their development and help them with WorldTour and help them be part of that journey.”
Geraint Thomas calls in sick
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) sat out the criterium as he recovers from an infection.
The 2018 Tour de France champion, speaking earlier in a men’s press conference alongside Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech), Jai Hindley (Bora-hansgrohe), Michael Matthews (Jayco Alula) and new race director Stuart O’Grady, is confident he’ll be on the start line for the race proper but pointed to younger teammates to lead the charge.
“Just before Christmas I had an infection. I thought I was over it; it came back a bit,” Thomas said.
“I’ve been on antibiotics, missed a few days training, which sucks when the weather is nice and sunny outside and you’re stuck inside, but I went out today and felt okay.
“All being well, I’ll be there on Tuesday.
“The team we’ve got, I’m super excited to be racing with them. We’ve got three potential winners really with Ethan [Hayter], Magnus [Sheffield] and Plappy [Luke Plapp], so really looking forward to that.”
Froome is starting the Tour Down for the first time since 2010, when he lined up with then new outfit Team Sky.
The four-time yellow jersey champion is hoping to pick up where he left off last season, before the Tour, which he withdrew from after testing positive to COVID-19 before stage 18. Froome said 2022 was the first time he competed pain free since his crash at the 2019 Criterium du Dauphine, which threatened to end his illustrious career.
“It’s certainly been a while since I was back here at the Tour Down Under but I’m really happy to be back,” said Froome.
“I’ve always found that going somewhere in January where I’ve got the opportunity to put in bigger miles, the climate’s warmer, or similar to the European summer temperatures where naturally I try and get myself ready for that June-July-August period in Europe, I’ve always found it really beneficial starting off the season in January-February, trying to stay somewhere warm.”
Froome estimates he will be in Australia training and racing for just over five weeks.
“A big part of my motivation coming out here is to get in the workload,” he said.
Wollaston overcomes shaky start
Wollaston prevailed after New Zealand got off to a shaky start before the criterium had even begun. Teammate Prudence Fowler crashed in what appeared to be a touch of wheels just past the finish line on a practice lap but clearly recovered her composure.
Wollaston, 22, was part of a breakaway that stayed clear of the chasing bunch, with seven women contesting the fight for line honours.
“I didn’t really know what to expect this early on in the season,” Wollaston said.
“I’ve been doing a lot of track work over the past two months in preparation for some pretty important national cups coming up. But it means so much to be racing and for the national team representing New Zealand.”
The women’s Tour Down Under starts on Sunday 110.4km run from Glenelg to Aldinga.
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.
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