Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Having committed what he described as a ‘rookie error’ on the second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour in celebrating too early, the young Australian made amends on the final day with a powerful sprint that lasted all the way to the line – beyond it even.
“I think I sprinted past the line a bit, just to make sure,” Ewan joked in his post-race press conference, revealing he received some stick back in the Orica-Scott camp on Friday.
“I was worried my teammates would be angry, but they all laughed it off. They’re a great bunch and they knew I was probably bashing myself up about it more than them. They were joking about it but it was all good. It was a really silly mistake and it’s going to annoy me for a bit, but I’d have been more annoyed if I didn’t win today."
Ewan’s clumsy error was all the more disappointing given that he practically threw away a first victory against one of the top brass of the sprinting world.
The 22-year-old had come up against Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and Andre Greipel individually in the past, but had never managed to get the better of one of them in a head-to-head. Here he atoned and ticked off all three in one fell swoop.
“These guys are the ones setting the benchmark in sprinting, so to be able to beat them is massive for me,” he said. “It shows I’m progressing.”
Indeed, Ewan has grown steadily since turning pro in 2015, getting the win tally ticking at smaller races in Asia before taking a breakthrough victory at the Vuelta a Espana that year. In 2016 he won three times in Australia in January but didn’t win again until August, while this year he has now managed to back up what was another fruitful home campaign.
“I’d hope I’m in that bracket [of top sprinters] now,” said Ewan, recognising that while his victory here in Abu Dhabi may not be as prestigious as the Vuelta, it’s nevertheless, “the one that has given me the most confidence” given the quality of the field.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards since turning pro. I’ve always been up there with those guys but not at their level yet,” he added. "This year I’m another year stronger, with a full season in the legs and that’s why the results have been better at start of this year. I just feel stronger. Hopefully I can continue this form onto the rest of the year.”
The rest of the year starts with Tirreno-Adriatico on March 8, where he’ll once again rub shoulders with Mark Cavendish, who freely admitted he was well beaten for speed by Ewan on the second and final stages, and didn’t actually outsprint him this week as Ewan crashed shortly before the Dimension Data rider won the opening stage.
“I get on really well with Cav – he’s really supportive of me,” said Ewan, who received a thumbs up from the Manxman just after the line on Sunday. “Maybe because I’m a sprinter coming up and, I’m not going say he’s on the way out – he has some of his best results ahead of him – but he doesn’t mind seeing a young guy coming through, probably like he did. So it’s nice to have a guy like that, even on different team, who supports you."
After Tirreno comes Milan-San Remo, a trip over to Belgium to dip his toe in the cobbled Classics at Gent-Wevelgem, and then a break in April before a return to Italy for Giro d’Italia.
“The races I’ve done so far haven’t been anything like San Remo but I have been training for a longer race like that. It’s hard to tell how I will go, so this year will probably be a learning experience more than anything,” he said of La Primavera.
As for the Giro, “it would be an honour to wear the first pink jersey of the 100th edition,” with the opening stage set to culminate in a sprint and Ewan surely now much more of a threat than on his debut last year, where he failed to make an impact against Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel.
Ewan will have to wait until next year at the earliest for his Tour de France debut.
“It’s a race I definitely want to do in the future but I think this year, because they [Orica-Scott] have done so well in GC, even last year with Esteban [Chaves] in the Giro and Vuelta, they want to take a full GC team,” Ewan explained. "If they take me they have to take some other guys for the leadout, and that leaves Chaves with only three or four guys. So this year it’s all for GC.”