Ewan overcomes increasing pressure to win second career Giro d'Italia stage
Sprinter confirms plans to make Tour de France debut in July
Third. Fifteenth. Second. Fourth. With each near miss in this year's Giro d'Italia bunch sprints, Caleb Ewan's disappointment at not being able to net a stage victory had been steadily growing. And so, too, was the pressure to win.
But finally at Pesaro on stage 8 the Lotto Soudal sprinter captured the second Giro d'Italia victory of his career, just four days after a deeply frustrating near-miss when he mistimed his attempt to chase down Movistar's Richard Carapaz on the uphill finish in Orbetello.
It was also Ewan's biggest win to date with his new team, Lotto-Soudal, for which he signed after a year of missing out on Grand Tours completely with Mitchelton-Scott.
Once back on the bigger race stage, though, Ewan has proved again he can take on the world's other top sprinters. And even as he completed his Giro d'Italia winner's press conference, the 24-year-old confirmed he is already eying a debut in the Tour de France this July.
"Last year was pretty average, so another average year would have been bad," Ewan added. "This time, for the first part of the season, this win is the icing on the cake. This one means a lot.
"The pressure was building every time I didn't win a stage here, and it's disappointing when I can't win a stage after all the work the team has been doing for me. So I'm happy I could get this one and it means a lot to be back at a Grand Tour, too."
Ewan explained that when he joined Lotto Soudal, the team had wanted him to head directly to the Tour de France. But in a training camp last winter, that changed. Instead, he agreed with the squad that, since heading to the Tour would mean a gap of over two years since his last Grand Tour, another crack at the Giro d'Italia sprints beforehand – where he already had a stage win – was the ideal approach path.
As for 2019, Ewan added that he would "probably decide after stage 11" if he stays in the Giro d'Italia to the end, "because there's only one more [sprint] opportunity [on stage 18] and to stay ten days for that might be detrimental to preparation for the Tour de France.
"So we haven't made an exact decision just yet, but we'll have to make it then, because even if I wanted to get through the mountains, I think it's going to be super tough. And with the Tour in mind I don't want to dig myself into a hole."
If Ewan felt he was doing just that in the Giro sprints following four near-misses, then on stage 8, the Australian managed to tunnel his way out in style – even if out of all those defeats, it was the one in Orbetello which stung the most.
"The pressure you feel depends on how you didn't win, for example, taking second in that uphill finish, I was constantly thinking that maybe if I'd gone earlier I could have won. You really replay it in your mind, what could have been
"Most of the time usually you don't think about it [why you have lost] too much unless you stuff up the timing."
The sprint on stage 8 was a very different beast in any case, coming after a series of small but challenging climbs and a fast, technical descent to the flat finish in the coastal town of Pesaro, and with a sharpish right hand corner with around 200 metres to go thrown in for good measure.
"When I looked at the finish, I had planned to go into that last corner first, but I was not feeling as good as I thought I would be, the last 30 kilometres were harder than I'd thought," Ewan said.
"But today, nothing went like I'd planned. I hadn't planned for such a big breakaway earlier on, and we had to use up all my guys, including my lead-out men, to bring it back. Then I wasn't feeling so great, so I knew if I went through that last corner first, then I'd have to do a 300 metre sprint. I knew I was good to do one from 150 metres, which was a risk, but I took it."
Ewan's targets may well include the Tour in the short-term, but it was hard not to think of Milan-San Remo as another possible objective after Saturday's stage. The extreme length of the Giro's stage 8, the flat build-up, short but tricky climbs at the finish, the fast final descent back down to sea level and even the finish location on the coast in Italy all had their similarities to the country's biggest Monument.
And so it came as no surprise when Ewan confirmed that rather than a crack at the rainbow jersey, La Primavera, in which he finished second back in 2018, is his dream one-day race triumph for now.
"I might like to go for the Worlds when it's not so hilly, maybe when they have it in Australia in a few years time," he said. "But for now, San Remo is the one I think I can try to win." And the evidence on Saturday in a very different Italian race certainly suggested that he could do that, too.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.