Lotto Soudal sprinter Caleb Ewan rounded out his maiden Tour de France in exceptional style with victory on the Champs-Élysées on Sunday, confirming his domination of the race's bunch sprints with his third stage win in ten days.
While all the other sprinters in this year's race have notched up one stage win at most, Ewan managed to secure three, a feat that even he couldn't believe at the end of the three-week Grand Tour.
Ewan revealed that he had not been on the Champs-Élysées for eight years. In 2011, at age 17, he had promised himself that he would win there when he next returned. He has duly kept that promise.
Ewan's win on the final stage of the Tour de France came despite being blocked with around 250 metres to go. As Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) went left, Ewan then headed right, going past Niccolo' Bonifazio (Total-Direct Energie) alongside the barriers to claim the win.
"I was told by my team not to go to the right because of the cobbles, but it wasn't possible to do anything else, and it all turned out OK, finally," Ewan, winner of stages 11, 16 and 21, said afterwards.
"When we rolled onto the Champs-Élysées, I almost had tears in my eyes, it was such a surreal feeling. I can't believe I just won the stage," he added.
As for the sprint itself, Ewan said that it had been quite chaotic. "I haven't watched it yet, but I thought I was a bit far back. I was on a pretty good wheel, but it seemed like a lot of riders were ahead of me, I'd maybe left it too late.
"I came from behind with a lot of speed, and I got around with the right-hand side."
Asked if he now considered himself to be the best sprinter in the world, Ewan said: "I've proved I'm the best sprinter in this year's Tour de France. I have to thank my team as well; they helped me in every sprint and to get through in every mountain stage, there were no days off for them.
"They always had to bring me back into contention, and help me 100 per cent, and they did that all through the Tour. I'm really pleased with how they rode."
As for what the key differences were between his new team, Lotto-Soudal and his previous team MItchelton-Scott, that he left at the end of last season to ride the Tour de France, Ewan said "the principal change is that I've really got a lot of freedom with my team.
"I did a lot of preparation with this team; I did the Giro, which was so important for me because before the Giro I had not done a Grand Tour for two years.
"That was a good stepping stone, and in my previous team with their GC ambitions, I wouldn't have been able to do that. But this team's focused on stage wins, and that's ideal for me."
Celebrations at Lotto Soudal
Team staff and riders were logically jubilant at the Lotto Soudal bus after the stage win, their fourth thanks to three from Caleb Ewan and one from Thomas De Gendt, making for a great race all around.
"We've had some great Tours with André Greipel, winning four stages, but with Caleb this is quite exceptional because it was his first time here," Lotto Soudal general manager Marc Sergeant told Cyclingnews.
"At first he was pretty nervous, saying he couldn't win because he was always second and third. And I said to him 'don't worry, this is only the first time, if it doesn't happen then it'll come next year.
"And that liberated him, the next day he won. I don't know if that was the key, but for sure it helped him.
"Then there were also the words of [former sprinter] Robbie McEwen" - also a winner on the Champs-Élysées - "who said if you go with that team, they will support you all the way to Paris, right up to the last day. But by then, he'd already won two."
Sergeant said one of the crunch moments for Ewan came when on a Pyrenean stage just before the rest day. He told six riders to wait for Ewan and bring him back into the peloton when he was struggling.
"That was maybe the key of the Tour - he could have gone [home], or stay here with the help of his teammates."
Then the final reward for his tenacity came on the Champs-Élysées, which Sergeant said is always a hard race to win.
"You see the best sprinters always battling through the last part of the Tour de France to get through to here. Last year it was [Alexander] Kristoff who won here, he nailed it. And this year it was Caleb."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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