Caleb Ewan might have enjoyed a fruitful start to 2016 in the balmy climes of the Australian summer but he encountered a different beast altogether at his first ever race in Belgium as a professional.
The 21-year-old, who had a breakthrough win at last year's Vuelta a España and carried that form through to this season with a double at the Tour Down Under, finished 15th on what he described as a "tough" day at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. It was bitingly cold in the Flanders region on Sunday, mercilessly compounded by the driving wind, and as it was such a brutal introduction to the European season.
"It's completely different. It was probably more the weather than anything that really played the role. It's freezing cold here, compared to what I'm used to – I was in South Africa a week ago and it was like 40 degrees," said Ewan, delaying his return to the warmth of the Orica-GreenEdge bus to talk to Cyclingnews.
"I'm pretty happy with how it went for my first race. It felt hard and I felt like I was struggling but by the looks of it everyone else was struggling, so that's a good sign."
The racing was aggressive, with the wind playing a part, and there was fluidity in the way that groups were forming at key junctures. Though a sizeable peloton did regroup to try and chase down solo winner Jasper Stuyven towards the end of the race, it was largely a day when Ewan had to stay constantly alert, responding to the digs and accelerations and making sure he didn't find himself cut adrift.
"It was pretty tough. The team did a great job putting me in a good position in most of the critical parts. I was right up there when all the attacks were going and I felt quite good. I felt I did pretty well, just in the end I'm not used to the really long races just yet."
That may be why, when the sprinters did get the chance to engage those fast-twitch muscle fibres – albeit in a race for second place – Ewan found himself with do much to do to challenge Alexander Kristoff and Nacer Bouhanni.
"When we got to the sprint I had to do a few efforts before the sprint. I probably came into that last corner 10-15 wheels back, so way too far back, and I had to do an effort to get onto Kristoff's wheel. After that I couldn't really sprint."
Nevertheless, Ewan took confidence from his first outing in a cobbled Classic. He came away with the desire to grow into these one-day races in years to come, and also with the belief that he can one day return to Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and win it.
"I haven't had too much experience on the cobbles so hopefully I can only improve from here," he said.
"I showed today I could get through with not ideal preparation for a cold Classic. In the years to come a race like this could really suit me."
Next up for the Australian is the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in March, where he says "a win or two would be nice".
"I feel quite good. I've only been back in Europe a week, I've had lots of travel and stuff in the first part of the year but luckily my form's still pretty good."
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