Caleb Ewan came into the UAE Tour still searching for his first UCI victory in the colours of Lotto Soudal. He had finished second on stage 2 of the Tour Down Under and at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race but finally climbed on the top step of the podium with a commanding victory on the Hatta Dam on stage 4.
At the start of the race, the Australian told Cyclingnews that he was unsure of his form after falling ill earlier in the month but was the strongest on the 17 per cent climb, beating Matteo Moschetti (Trek-Segafredo) and race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) to the line.
Ewan knew that his diminutive stature would help him on the leg-sapping ascent.
"I knew coming into this Tour that this could potentially suit me really well," Ewan told the media afterwards. "It's hard to tell on TV how steep it really is. I knew it was 17 per cent so it is pretty steep. Looking back at the guys who have won before, it's really more like climber sprinters that do well here.
"A lot of the guys I'm sprinting against are 80 kilos-plus and I'm 67 kilos. I'm probably a lot smaller than a lot of them and I guess my power to weight ratio is a benefit when the climb is 17 per cent."
Compared to most of the other roads around the UAE, the climb up to the top of the Hatta Dam is fairly narrow; it is also twisting and it's easy to get blocked in if you are out of position. Ewan had not ridden the climb previously but used the guide of Alexander Kristoff's wheel to help him time his effort.
"My team got me in good position, so I think I got onto the climb in third wheel," Ewan explained. "I knew I needed to start the climb no further back than fifth or sixth position. I knew when I was in Kristoff's wheel then he would probably start and then I could kind of gauge off him. Once he started and once I found the right gear then I could kind of gauge at the end."
A boost for moral
The victory is a major morale boost for Ewan, who is targeting victory at Milan-San Remo next month.
Ewan finished second at the monument last season and has geared the entire part of his early season around the goal. It is the longest one-day race of the year and the 24-year-old is ensuring that he's getting the hard miles in.
"To get through San Remo you really have to change your training because it's a 300km race and I've been basing my training around that. From last year I know I can do well there so hopefully I can do one position better this year," he explained.
"The first part of this year I have to do six to seven hour training rides to get my body used to riding for that long and that starts in the pre-season in November and December. I really have to start training long from there to be good in San Remo."
Ewan will have another shot at victory on Thursday's stage 5 to Khor Fakkan, which should end in a sprint finish.