Battered, weary and sporting a huge bandage on one leg, nearly 40 minutes after Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange) claimed an extraordinary victory on stage 14 of the Tour de France, another Australian sprinter crossed the line, merely grateful that what he called "a shocker of a day" was over.
Caleb Ewan had been dropped some 10 kilometres after the start of the stage from Saint Étienne to Mende, but with a cohort of three Lotto-Soudal teammates, Tim Wellens, Frederik Frison and Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg, he was able to get through again. Although as he admitted, afterwards, even if his crash on stage 13 had knocked him back short-term, he had already been having a difficult Tour de France, with another fall in the first week and missed opportunities in Denmark.
Yet even if his Grand Tour struggles this year stretch back to his very challenging Giro d'Italia, which he called a 'Giro from hell', Ewan remains upbeat and determined to try in the few Tour de France stages that remain. "You saw today my team really back me," he told reporters before heading onto the bus, "so I hope I can repay them."
"Today I wouldn't have made it through if my teammates hadn't helped me so a big thanks to them," Ewan told reporters. "I was having a shocker of a day from the start, I got dropped really early and I was trying to find my rhythm and hope the breaks went quite quickly."
Instead, as Tadej Pogačar fought to get in an early move, the attacks to set up a breakaway went on for far longer than Ewan would have hoped. And by the time the dust settled, he was out the back, as he said, "with 180 kilometres of chasing to do."
Although his stage 13 crash did not help matters, Ewan said, it was not only a question of his latest fall holding him back in this year's Tour.
"I've been having a lot of these days in the Tour so it's pretty obvious I haven't felt great all Tour," he said. "There have been days I felt all right but I've been struggling a lot and the crash obviously didn't help.
"So I'll fight on for another day, hopefully things will turn around and I still hope for a stage win."
A five time Tour de France stage winner, now in his fourth participation in the race, Ewan pointed out that dramatic reversals of fortune can come fast in such a hard event. The sprinter said he might even be in the mix on Sunday at Carcassonne.
"If I have the day tomorrow that I had today [Saturday], I'll have no chance. But in the Tour things turn around really quickly, I felt like a good day yesterday [Friday] until I crashed, then I had a shocker again today so you never know.
"Maybe tomorrow will be good, maybe Paris will be good. I'll just keep going 'til I can't go anymore."
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