Caleb Ewan is still yet to lose a sprint finish he has contested in 2016 following the Orica-GreenEdge rider's Jayco Herald Sun Tour stage 3 victory over Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare) in Moe. Ewan won two stages of the Tour Down Under last month having also won the pre-race Down Under Classic criterium, the national criterium title and three stages of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic.
“It’s not the biggest win I’ve had this season, but I think the way I won it gives me a whole lot of confidence and that makes it really, really special for me," Ewan told reporters of where the win rates in his 2016 haul.
Ewan was the outright favourite for the 144.2km stage despite three categorised climbs squeezed into the middle of the day and the late kicker on the Moe circuit. Despite the challenges, the 21-year-old rose to the occasion, showering praise on his teammates for their performances.
“I heard whispers that Avanti was going to try and make it hard in the middle of the race, and they did exactly that," he added. "The whole race I was kept near the front with my team and always out of trouble, so I never had to fight for position or anything like that, it makes it a lot easier for me up the climbs. When we got to the climbs I was feeling pretty good."
With the race splitting to pieces on the Moe circuit, a six-man group of Ewan, Putt, Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEdge), Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo), Chris Froome and Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) formed inside the final five kilometres of the stage. With Ewan, the obvious winner should it finish in a sprint, Bobridge and Kennaugh both launched attacks but the sextet would arrive at the flamme rouge altogether. From there, it was only a matter of how many bike lengths Ewan would be celebrating by.
"It was much tougher than the usual sprint finishes that I’ve been used to this summer. The team rode awesome today, they kept me out of trouble and kept me near the front on all the climbs. I struggled through the middle climb, luckily they kept me near the front this last climb and it was actually harder than expected. I knew Kennaugh and Bobridge were going to be super strong over the top so I couldn’t let them go away, so I jumped on them and held on for my life really.”
Ewan is set to make his Giro d'Italia debut in May this season, having ridden his first grand tour last year at the Vuelta a Espana winning a stage ahead of John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan. The Giro's stages are sure to be harder than what Ewan has experienced over the last five weeks of racing in Australia and explained that getting through a stage such as today's, is assurance of his capabilities for the year ahead.
“It’s also a massive confidence boost knowing that in the harder stages I can still be there and win the sprint," he said. "So it gives me a whole lot of confidence heading into the season,” Ewan said. “That last lap was hectic, and the wind really picked up in the last hour and half of the race which made it really hard. Like it said, my team kept me up the front out of trouble and in the wheels so when we arrived at the climb was probably a lot fresher than the other guys.”
Stage 3 is the final opportunity Ewan will have this summer for a win on Australian soil. It's no surprise he's aiming to raise his arms in triumph tomorrow afternoon in Inverloch for his ninth victory of the year.
“I felt quite exhausted coming to the Tour after all the racing I’ve done, and I am quite happy with how I performed today and I hope I can get the stage tomorrow as well," he concluded.