Caleb Ewan has had a mixed start to his time with Lotto Soudal but the Australian sprinter believes he is still on target to reach top form for Milan-San Remo next month. After finishing second at La Primavera in 2018, the Monument is the main focus of his early season.
Ewan began his year in Australia with wins at the Bay Crits and the pre-Tour Down Under criterium, and celebrated a win on stage 5 of the main race before being relegated for an ‘irregular sprint’.
He signed his Australian campaign off with second at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He fell ill and had to have some teeth removed in the month since, but he says it has not set him back too much as he begins the UAE Tour.
"I might not be at my best here, but the goal is to be at my best at Milan-San Remo and I’m well on my way to that," Ewan told Cyclingnews ahead of the opening team time trial in Abu Dhabi.
"It was good to win the Down Under Classic before it started. Although I got disqualified on stage 5 I took confidence from that because I beat the fastest guys there. It’s not a win but I can take the confidence from it. Then, at Cadel Evans I was close to winning. I’m not too far off my peak. In between then and now, I haven’t had an ideal run because I had my wisdom teeth out and I also got sick. It’s not too much of a worry."
With three flat stages across the week, the UAE Tour will be another chance for Ewan to work with his new lead-out train. Ewan joined Lotto Soudal over the winter after five seasons with Mitchelton-Scott. There have been a few mistakes as they find their feet as a unit, but familiar faces have helped make the move a smooth one.
"It’s actually been a really easy transition. The team have been really welcoming and they’ve given me a lot of freedom with my race programme," said Ewan. "It’s been a really good start. I haven’t got that [big UCI] win yet and I’m under pressure to get that first win. Hopefully, we can keep building from there.
"It’s been easier because I have Roger [Kluge] with me from Mitchelton and then I have Adam [Blythe] with me, who I had before. They’re guys who I have worked with and then even when I was in Mitchelton the fourth, fifth and sixth guy were always changing anyway so it wasn’t like I was used to a certain six guys or anything like that, so adjusting to the lead-out hasn’t been too hard. Those guys that I have are super experienced from riding with [Andre] Greipel so when you ask them to do something they know what you’re talking about because they’ve done it before."
After the conclusion of the UAE Tour, Ewan will head to Europe for Paris-Nice as his final preparation for Milan-San Remo. He hopes his week in the Middle East will give him the final finesse on his form to take his first major victory of the season. He would, of course, like to head to Europe with a win in his back pocket but he’s not sure that he has the shape at present to come out on top in a sprint field that includes Fernando Gaviria, Elia Viviani and Marcel Kittel.
"We have a super strong sprint field here and I’m excited to be racing with those guys again," Ewan said. "Obviously, I’d like to take a win from here, but with the sprint field that we have, you have to be on top form to take the win. I’m not exactly on top form but anything can happen. If I am in the right place at the right time, then I think that I can definitely go for the win."