Caleb Ewan has kicked off his season at the Santos Tour Down Under every year bar once since turning professional in 2015 but this year the Australian starts his campaign at the UAE Tour where he will face-off against the glitterati of the sprinting world.
The Lotto Soudal sprinter won a stage and claimed the points jersey in the UAE Tour last year and, despite three stages in this year’s route based in the mountains or against the clock, there are still ample opportunities for Ewan to open his 2021 account with a morale-boosting win.
Standing in his way is a wall of world-class sprinters, including Sam Bennett, Pascal Ackermann, Fernando Gaviria, and form rider Giacomo Nizzolo, who won the Clásica de Almería earlier this month.
"Preparations for the new season have been quite good. It is the first time I stayed in Europe for the winter and I really had to get used to the cold. The training camp in January was perfect to lay the foundations for the season ahead," Ewan said.
The 26-year-old has ambitions of winning stages in all three Grand Tours this season but, like all sprinters, a win is a win, and any chance at WorldTour level will be seized with both hands.
"The UAE Tour is generally the first race of the season where all the big sprinters come together. With for example Bennett, Ackermann, Gaviria, Nizzolo, Viviani, Bauhaus and Philipsen, the competition is definitely looking tough.
"Therefore, the UAE Tour is always a nice opportunity to test yourself against the other guys and see who’s going well and who’s not. Just like previous years, there are quite a few opportunities for the sprinters, so I am definitely looking forward to it."
Lotto Soudal have a strong team at the UAE Tour based around Ewan and his lead-out, with Jasper De Buyst and Roger Kluge both included in the seven-man squad. Breakaway specialist Thomas de Gendt has also made the team and alongside first-year pro Harry Sweeny, who, at 22, graduated from Lotto-Soudal's U23 programme and is set to make his professional debut.
"The UAE Tour should be a great race to get my first season as a pro started and I am really excited. There are quite some opportunities for the team. There are several sprint stages for Caleb and Harm Vanhoucke can test himself during the mountain stages," Sweeny said.
"I think that I am versatile enough to help the team on both terrains. My role at the race will be to act as the second last or third last rider in the lead-out for Caleb, but it is only my first race as a pro – and immediately at WorldTour level – so we’ll see how things play out. I definitely can’t wait to race."
Lotto Soudal for the UAE Tour
- Jasper De Buyst
- Thomas De Gendt
- Caleb Ewan
- Roger Kluge
- Harry Sweeny
- Harm Vanhoucke
- Tosh Van der Sande
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