Caleb Ewan signs for Lotto Soudal

24-year-old Australian leaves Mitchelton-Scott to replace Greipel as Belgian team's sprinter

Caleb Ewan will leave Mitchelton-Scott and ride for Lotto Soudal next year, with the Belgian team announcing the arrival of the 24-year-old sprinter on an multiple-year deal. 

Ewan began his professional career with Mitchelton-Scott in 2014 and has since racked up 28 victories, but his status at the Australian outfit has been compromised by the team's growing general classification focus, with Grand Tour teams largely built around the Yates twins and Esteban Chaves. 

"The opportunity to join Lotto Soudal was for me an important and incredibly exciting one. They are a team that has a great history concerning sprinters and classics, I spent many hours as a youngster marveling at Robbie McEwen’s victories. More recently, I can only say I have nothing but enormous respect for Andre Greipel, what he achieved as a rider and what he stood for as a person. But now, together with Lotto Soudal, I hope to write an exciting, new chapter," Ewan said in a statement released by his future team.

After winning stages at the Vuelta a España in 2015 and the Giro d'Italia in 2017, Ewan was promised a Tour de France debut in 2018, as announced by the team in December, but he was snubbed late on, with Matt White explaining the decision was 'performance-based'. By that point, Ewan had already been heavily linked with a move to Lotto Soudal. André Greipel had been the team's sprinter and talisman for nearly eight years but he and the management clashed over a new contract and his departure for Fortuneo-Samsic was announced last week. 

Ewan has had a relatively quiet 2018 season so far, with only two wins on the board, compared to the seven he'd amassed by this point last year. That said, he has finished in the lower podium positions on no fewer than 10 occasions, including second place at Milan-San Remo. Even if Greipel has won six times this year, the Lotto Soudal management clearly highlighted Ewan, 12 years the German's junior, as their main man for 2019 and beyond. 

“I think for me the decision to take this path with Lotto Soudal has been a logical one if you take the emotion out of it, but we have much hard work ahead to make sure it becomes the perfect match. I do feel the path Mitchelton Scott are now on is one not suited to me but I have nothing but appreciation and respect for the riders and entire organisation. I have learnt and experienced so much during the past four years, I have many life-long friends there and I am sincerely grateful to them," Ewan added.

“How do I describe myself? As a pure but versatile sprinter who is well suited to slightly uphill finishes. The past few years I have worked a lot on becoming stronger, which allows me to remain a contender during a tough finale. I will continue to work hard on my preparation together with Lotto Soudal and we will aim to be up there in Classics such as Milan-San Remo, amongst others.

“Although we have many legends still racing very well, we’re in a transition to a next generation of sprinters at the moment. There are a lot of good young sprinters that I obviously want to be a key part of and to do that I will need to continue to make further progress - with my new teammates. There’s not one team that currently dominates the sprints, but Lotto Soudal possesses both the experience and the desire to again build a very strong team for sprints.

“This is a multi-year plan of natural progress: building a sprint train with guys who have the capabilities to ride the finale of the most important bike races, forming a team with the riders on and off the bike and creating important routines by racing together consistently. However, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t eager to get some nice results in the first year.”

Stepping into big shoes

Ewan has been linked to Lotto Soudal for some, with reports earlier this year that the deal was agreed in the spring. That left Greipel looking for a new team. Lotto Soudal's Marc Sergeant praised his new sprinter and was optimistic for the future of the team. Roger Kluge is expected to move across from Mitchelton-Scott and help Ewan in the sprints.

"Internally, we have spoken extensively about the era after André Greipel. That moment is now. Once again, we opted for a sprinter with potential, just like we did with André in 2011. The choice for a sprinter over a GC rider, for example, is twofold. With a sprinter, you have chances for success all year long and the budget to attract and surround a GC rider is significantly higher," Sergeant added.

"During the conversations Caleb and I had, I noticed how smart and likeable he is; but he is also someone who clearly knows what he wants. At a very young age, he showed to be capable of winning stages in Grand Tours, with his unique style. Within both the peloton and the team, we can speak of a generation shift in the sprint.

“With Tim Wellens, Tiesj Benoot and Caleb Ewan, we have now three clear leaders for three different types of races. Now it’s a matter of building a team around these riders in order to assist them as best as possible. That’s something we are currently working on. Guys like Jasper De Buyst and Jens Keukeleire could become very important to Caleb. He rode together with Jens for three years, and Jasper has the skills and the guts to deliver a top sprinter into a perfect position in the finishing straight.”

“I think that the ambitions of Caleb are similar to those of the team. In fact, we are starting from scratch whereby the mix of our experience and his potential should allow us to achieve those goals. He is an extremely talented sprinter, so that will become the main focus. Over the years, we will see what he can achieve in certain Classics, but if you finish second in Milan-San Remo 2018, you definitely have the capacity and technical skills.”

Cyclingnews' Analysis

One of the most protracted and messy transfers of the summer has finally been announced and while this has been poorly handled by several parties news of Ewan's official move at least draws a line after a difficult few months.

There is no doubt that the 24-year-old Ewan is a younger and better long-term option in comparison to Greipel, and that Lotto Soudal will provide the sprinter with a much more stable and dedicated environment to improve. At Mitchelton it was clear than Ewan was slowly losing his importance with a greater emphasis on stage racing and the three-pronged attack of Esteban Chaves and the two Yates brothers, Simon and Adam.

Lotto have a less dedicated GC squad and years of experience working with sprinters in Robbie McEwen and then Greipel. Ewan will now have greater clarity on the races he can target, as well as the full faith of a management that need results. That said, Lotto will still need to give their new leader time. Marcus Seiberg has left for Bahrain-Merida and veteran all-rounder Adam Hansen has not yet been offered a contract. Simply walking into Greipel's old lead-out train is not an option and while the imminent signing of Roger Kluge will help the transition, as we saw with Marcel Kittel's move from Quick-Step Floors to Katusha-Alpecin, swapping trains is not an easy operation.

However, despite the way in which Greipel's departure was handled, Lotto have their man and Ewan has the right environment to fulfil his true potential.
 

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