A good lead-out man is a precious, and indeed rare, commodity. The best sprint partnerships run on total trust and telepathic understanding and, after more than a fair share of teething problems, Caleb Ewan believes he's struck upon a winning formula with Luka Mezgec.
The young Australian sprinter started working with the Slovenian rider at Orica-Scott last year, but it's only this year, he says, that things have started clicking. Three wins from six stages of the Tour of Britain would certainly attest to that.
"It's taken time and I think to be honest we've only really started working well together from the Giro onwards. It's taken that kind of length of time but, yeah, now I think we're working really well together," said Ewan in Aldeburgh after picking up the third win this week.
While Ewan chose to leave Mezgec early in Aldeburgh to take an aggressive line through a nasty right-hand bend, the 29-year-old, a former stage winner at the Giro d'Italia, was crucial in teeing him up for stages 1 and 3.
Ewan now has 10 victories to his name this season, including a stage at the Giro d'Italia. Roger Kluge has been used as a lead-out man on occasion, but Mezgec has been by his side for six of those wins – all of them since the Tour Down Under.
"I think we always said from the start when we started working together that it was going to be hard – well not hard, but it was going to take time to kind of evolve our relationship together and work out how each other kind of rides in the finish," Ewan explained .
"Obviously he didn't come from being a lead-out man, he came from being a sprinter, so at the start he was super punchy, kind of exactly like me. So every time he led me out, by the time I had to come off him I was pretty much spent already because I had done the sprint behind him.
"We could always get into position together but it was just when he started his lead-out he would pretty much go full gas and even when you're sitting on the wheel and someone is sprinting full gas in front of you, you're basically doing the same thing and you're not getting as much of a draft when you're accelerating. So it had to be, when he started he had to ease into the lead-out so then I'm not sitting behind and sprinting.
"Also when he was a sprinter he had to do a lot of it himself as well, so he was kind of a little bit hard to follow in the bunch because he only really had to think about himself before. But now he has to kind of realise that I'm behind him and he has to go through gaps where two people can fit instead of one. All that kind of stuff."
Ewan's dive through the inside line in Aldeburgh was reminiscent, in a way, of his win at the Giro d'Italia. Although it left him with a long sprint, it was a technical finale, rather than a long, straight run-in suited to full lead-out trains.
"I think Luka and I, kind of from the start, have had to learn to ride together without a team so much, and I think those kinds of finishes suit us because if you're in good position with two guys then you don't need the team to kind of keep moving you up because you can move up through the corners and things like that," said Ewan.
"So I think we've learned to do it by ourselves though the corners like that, and then now we've got the team to put us in position so it makes it a whole lot easier."
Ewan reckons Saturday's stage 7 at the Tour of Britain, with a second-category climb in the last 10km, will rule out the pure sprinters, but he could well make it four on the final day in Cardiff. Either way, there's been ample evidence this week of a blossoming partnership that must inspire confidence for the the years ahead.
"I think we do it really well, and I'm looking forward to keep progressing the relationship in future," Ewan said.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.