Two years after Michael Matthews secured his breakthrough Grand Tour stage win in the 2013 Vuelta a España, Orica-GreenEdge's Caleb Ewan followed his teammate's wheeltracks with a classy uphill victory against John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Curiously enough, Matthews victory, taken in a chaotic bunch sprint against Argentina's Maximiliano Richeze and Belgian Gianni Meersman, also came on stage 5 of the Vuelta. And like Matthews two years ago, the Vuelta's is Ewan's first ever Grand Tour stage victory.
"Michael has won a lot of Grand Tour stages since then so it would be an honour to be following on his footsteps and doing kind of what he's done," Ewan said after securing Orica-GreenEdge's second 2015 Vuelta win in four days. "Hopefully this will be the first one of many in my career, too. It feels very special and follow in his footsteps is a pretty good thing for me."
Just 21 years old and a U-23 silver medallist last year in Ponferrada's road race, Ewan's victory was all the more impressive as he managed to fend off two established sprinters of the calibre of Degenkolb and Sagan as he powered to his tenth victory of 2015.
"It was a toughie," he said, describing the twisting uphill grind of a finish in western Andalucia, ridden off in temperatures of around 35 degrees celsius.
"To be honest I didn't know what to expect haven't won a WorldTour race before and I knew it was going to be pretty tough, but at the end there when your team commit 100 percent and believe in you so much, you start to believe in yourself. The way they delivered me perfectly to the foot of the climb was awesome.
"I thought it was going to very hard to beat those guys on a finish like that, but I was so perfectly placed I didn't have to make up any spaces going up through the peloton on the climb and they probably did. That extra effort would have really cost you energy."
Uphill finishes as difficult as the kilometre long grind at Alcalá de Gaudeira are not one of his inhouse specialities, Ewan said, "although I'm a smaller sprinter so in a way it does suit me because I don't have to put down as much power as guys like Degenkolb and Sagan. But probably a finish that isn't as steep as that would suit me better."
A question from a reporter about the inaccurate allegations from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) that Ewan had caused the big crash late on Sunday's stage was all but inevitable. But as Ewan said, "coming into the last 50 K's it gets really hectic, but my team's as good as any when it comes to those sort of situations, but everybody kind of knows that crash wasn't my fault." As for where he actually was, Ewan revealed, "I was right down near the back of the peloton, I felt that [accusation] was a little bit random when I read it, but I've forgot about it pretty quickly as well."
After all their bad luck in the Tour de France, Orica-GreenEdge are enjoying an early run of success in the Vuelta that mirrors their standout performances in the Giro's first week this spring, when the Australians went from strength. The only downnote on stage 5, in fact, was the Australian squad lost the leader's jersey after Esteban Chaves was caught on the wrong side of a split.
"I couldn't see what happened to him, I was at the front of the bunch but he's in great form and I've no doubt he'll be able to fight for getting the red jersey again in the next few days," Ewan argued. In the meantime, Ewan has started hitting the heights for himself.
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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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