Among the sprinters field at this year's Giro d'Italia, Caleb Ewan comes to the start as perhaps the outright fastest man on the start line on Friday.
The Australian won twice in Italy last year, adding to three previous stage wins in 2017 and 2019 and he'll lead Lotto Soudal at this year's race, which kicks off with three days in Hungary.
With three certain sprint opportunities (Balatonfüred, Messina, Scalea) in the first week, as well as a challenging uphill finish on stage 1 in Visegrád, Ewan has the chance to assert his authority early on and prove he's the quickest man in a peloton that includes Mark Cavendish, Arnaud Démare, and Fernando Gaviria, among others.
"The aim is to always win as many stages as possible and that's my goal so at the end of the day I just want to do my best and see how much I can win. Then hopefully in the end it's enough," Ewan said.
"I think I'm in really good form, but I can't tell if It's the best form of my career. I consider myself one of the fastest but at the end of the day it doesn't mean much – you still have to beat the guys that are here. We'll all do our best to try and win.
"Once we start racing if I'm the best sprinter here and I only win one stage then I'll probably be disappointed. If I'm not the best sprinter and I only win one stage, I'll probably be happy. It all depends on how I'm going against my rivals."
Ewan couldn't pick out one major rival among the Giro sprint pack, instead pointing out that many of the fastmen taking on the race have enjoyed a winning start to the season. He did note, however, that everyone steps up a gear when Grand Tour season starts.
"It seems like there's a lot of good guys. It's hard to pick out a clear best," he said. "A lot of the sprinters have had a really good start to the season. Maybe now we're getting into the GT season we'll see how everybody steps up.
"These are generally the harder stages to win so I think we have a pretty good sprint field with Cavendish, Démare, Gaviria, Nizzolo… I've missed some but there's quite a few good sprinters here. As always, it's never easy to win a stage but I think it'll be I guess entertaining for the people watching."
With three flat finishes coming in the first week of the race, there are several chances for Ewan to add to his Giro palmarès. Stage 1, however, could prove more of a challenge for all but the punchiest sprinters.
Ewan has shown in the past that he can cope with hilly run-ins and uphill finishes – a podium spot at Milan-San Remo and a UAE Tour win at Hatta Dam prove that – but the 5.5km, 4.2 per cent finish on Friday could prove a bridge too far.
"I wouldn't say it's a golden opportunity because in general it's too hard for me," Ewan said. "If I'm going good I think it's not impossible, but it's still going to be quite tough to win. I'll try and I'll either have the legs to do it or I won't. It's pretty simple.
"The first stage is a day where a lot of the pure sprinters won't be there and a guy like Van der Poel can score maximum points. I think it's definitely possible for him to go for the sprint jersey.
"A lot of the Giro sprints are quite difficult. I don't see so many opportunities for pure sprinters. There'll be quite a few opportunities for a guy like him who's quite fast but who can climb really well."
Ewan himself won't be aiming for the maglia ciclamino, though. Last year he withdrew from the race after eight days due to knee pain, but he hopes to last longer this time around, even if racing all the way to the finish in Verona isn't on the cards with just one flat finish – stage 18 in Treviso – coming in the final week.
"I think probably I won't be going into the last week, put it that way," he said. "It's really quite hard and I think the last week of a GT is when you really go into your reserves. I'll probably stop before then.
"There's no set stage. It's always generally on how I'm feeling and if I feel like I really suffer then it's time to stop. I hope to stay longer than I did last year."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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