Caleb Ewan didn’t leave Mitchelton-Scott for Lotto Soudal just to win the Down Under Classic, but there was a sense of both vindication and relief when he skipped clear to claim his third edition of the race on Sunday.
The Australian was in the right place at the right time when a number of his sprint rivals fell or were held up in a run of late crashes, and there was enough evidence on show to suggest that Ewan and his relatively new lead-out train are on the right track. Ewan was not only the best placed sprinter in the final kilometre, but he was also clearly the fastest, a fact demonstrated when he showed last year’s winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) a clean pair of heels in the finishing straight.
“I knew that it was going to be a hard one to win because of the calibre of sprinter here. I went into it confident and I knew that my form was good, but you never know how it’s going to go. It was a very aggressive race and that made it a little bit harder,” Ewan said after his victory.
The win was built in phases. First Lotto ensured that a number of threatening breaks were kept within reach, with Thomas De Gendt instrumental in hunting down several attacks. In the finishing laps, Ewan’s lead-out train kicked in with Roger Kluge – who also made the journey from Mitchelton – playing a pivotal role. The German held his nerve and allowed Ewan back onto his wheel after a late crash disrupted the pair’s pace through the last run of corners. Kluge then brought back a dangerous move from Daniel Oss before Ewan finished off the job.
“My team did a fantastic job. On a course like this with four corners on each lap it’s hard to stay together but they stayed composed and I stayed with Roger and he delivered me perfectly,” Ewan said.
“I’m happy with my form and I couldn’t ask for a better start. This is the first time I’ve raced with a full team like this. To start with the win is a good feeling.
“This was our first time riding together so we really couldn’t have hoped for a better start. It was a bit unfortunate that there was a crash in the end because you want all the sprinters there. My feelings were good, the team rode great, and they had me in the position that I needed to be in.”
Ewan can only beat what’s put in front of him and it wasn’t luck that kept him out of trouble in Adelaide on Sunday, though his move to Lotto will not be deemed a success based solely on wins in races like this. The switch was made in order to win Grand Tour stages, to compete in the Tour de France, and to prove that he is justified in calling himself a leader. That said, this was certainly a step in the right direction. This may not be a WorldTour race but momentum can be a sprinter’s best friend. A win in January as Elia Viviani found out in 2018 can be the catalyst for change.
“There was a lot of pressure because you don’t know how it’s going to start with a new team,” Ewan said after Sunday’s win.
“Especially with a lead-out because you don’t know it’s going to evolve over time. I wouldn’t say that we got it perfect, but I think that we got it pretty spot on. I had Roger there in the end and I got to sprint. It’s hard to have a whole lead-out on a course like this but I said to the guys to get Roger in a good position and they did that. It was a perfect start. It’s such a strong sprint field here and I think that it’s the strongest one they’ve had here in a long time. It’s not going to be easy to win sprints when the Tour Down Under starts. I hope that there’s more to come. Everyone in the team is going well. I’ve got good feelings in my legs and I hope that we can get some good wins.”