Sprint victory on the opening day of the 2016 WorldTour calendar at the Tour Down Under has extended Caleb Ewan's winning start to the season to six from eight starts. Ewan kicked off the year with victory at the Bay Cycling Classic on new year's day, added two further stages and the overall before claiming a maiden elite criteirum national title.
Ewan then delivered on his favourite status at the Down Under Classic on Sunday night to claim the win ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segefredo). With Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under expected to suit the sprinters, Orica-GreenEdge and Ewan firmed as favourites for the win and first leader's jersey of the race. Despite losing Mat Hayman to a late puncture, Ewan surged to the win ahead of Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data).
"I was feeling good and the team showed their faith in me by riding on the front all day," Ewan said. "It's a really big confidence boost and that's exactly what I need going into the season," said Ewan who won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana last year. "It's a really proud moment for me, I've never led a WorldTour race before and to do it for the first time in my home country is a real honour for me."
With Orica-GreenEdge also looking to win the overall with Simon Gerrans, Ewan described his gratitude for having the team dedicated to his personal ambitions for the stage.
"I need to thank Gerro for sharing the team with me. If he says to the team that he wants them to do the drive for him, they would have to do that. So for a guy like that who can really win the overall, to say 'yeah you can have your go on the day there's so many sprints' it means a lot. It's a really proud moment for me, I've never led a WorldTour race before and to lead my first one in my home country is a real honour for me."
With the three-man breakaway of Sean Lake (UniSA-Australia), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale) jumping clear from the peloton two kilometres into the 130.8km stage, Orica-GreenEdge had Michael Hepburn doing the majority of work on the front of the peloton to control the gap which never went out beyond 2:30 minutes. Sports director Matt White explained the team knew it would fall upon them to take up the chase and gave credit to his riders for setting up the win.
"We obviously have a lot of responsibility with Caleb here and as our home WorldTour race but the boys did a good job controlling the stage and then looking after him in the final," White said. "He had Luke Durbridge, Mat Hayman and Daryl Impey in the final and the main thing was that he got a clean run to the line and he showed he is the fastest guy here.
"Every win is big, and this is a WorldTour field, so it's big for Caleb. This won't be our last opportunity for a sprint. Tomorrow could be tricky, and Victor Harbor is usually a sprint. Sunday is another day for a sprint."
Along with taking the ochre jersey, Ewan also leads the sprint and young rider classifications ahead of tomorrow's circuit finish in Stirling.