Ewan back to his best with Peter Sagan-beating stage win

Confidence-boosting Tour Down Under victory for Mitchelton-Scott sprinter

With his Tour Down Under winning streak broken on the opening stage of the 2018 edition of the race, Caleb Ewan bounced back in style in Stirling.

The Mitchelton-Scott rider took his best stage win yet at the Australian race, powering past Bora-Hansgrohe's Jay McCarthy and world champion Peter Sagan. Lead-out man Daryl Impey held on for second place, erasing the memories of defeat 24 hours prior in Lyndoch.

"It is probably more exciting winning on a stage you are unsure about going into," said Ewan, who also moves into the leader's ochre jersey.

"By this time last year I had a few wins by the time we got to the second stage. Maybe my confidence went down a little bit so it was great to see the team's confidence didn't go down at all and they backed me on a finish that probably didn't suit me so well."

Ewan's stage 1 loss to Andre Greipel was a new experience at the race, having won the six previous sprints he'd contested. Of his now seven career stage wins, Stirling was arguably the hardest of the lot, with the added advantage of taking an early season win over Sagan.

"To get one up on him here in a finish that suits him is a bonus," said Ewan, who beat Sagan and John Degenkolb to a Vuelta a España stage win on a hilly finish as a neo-pro in 2015. "I think winning on these harder stages is what I need. Even the flatter stages of the Tour [de France] are going to be pretty tough."

Ewan added that he didn't want to commit to leadership for the sprint in case of fading late and costing the team the win. However, his late piece of improvisation and successful call to take on the responsibility was a sign of his growing maturity and leadership abilities.

"It was a tricky one because I didn't know if I was going to get up there or not. I didn't want to make the call from the bottom that I was going to get up there because I didn't know how I was going to feel," he said. "I just kind of sat in there and tried to conserve as much energy as possible. I saw Daryl sitting up there pretty nicely as well, so I followed him and told him to go with about 300 or 250 to go. And then he got us out, and I had a clear run to the line."

Impey impact

Speaking to Cyclingnews on the start line of stage 2, Impey explained that Ewan would be plan A but added that, "In the back of my mind I know it will be a race to the line."

Keeping a low profile in the list of contenders for the stage, had it not been for his teammate Impey would have been celebrating an upset win over podium contenders Sagan, McCarthy and Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin). Crossing the line first and second, Ewan and Impey embraced on the course, with the duo sharing a quick exchange.

"He said 'are you going to let me win one?' I didn't know that he actually got second," Ewan said of his teammate. "I thought he had done the lead-out part and then maybe sat up and I was focused on beating Sagan at that point. He said that he kept sprinting because he thought I was Sagan. I don't think he was too disappointed."

At the Mitchelton-Scott team van in the aftermath of the result, sports director Matt White outlined the importance of Impey to the team and his role in Ewan's development as a sprinter.

"He is the most versatile bike rider in our team, it's as simple as that," White said of Impey. "He is the first guy I would take to almost any bike race on the calendar because he can do anything. He can lead out uphill, he joins in in sprints, he rides team time trial World Championships. He is a very valuable guy and we've known that from the start. He is only getting better with age."

With Ewan making his Tour de France debut in July, it is no surprise the duo will predominantly share a race programme until July, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo being two early examples.

With stage 3 a day for Ewan into Victor Harbor, Friday's stage into Uraidla could be one for Impey. Having upstaged the likes of Sagan in the Stirling sprint, a stage win may just be around the corner for the South African, with little chance of Ewan getting to the line first.

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