Caleb Ewan (Australia) nabbed his sixth win of his European campaign at the Tour de l'Avenir on Sunday, out-sprinting German young-gun Rick Zabel.
It was the fourth clash of 2013 for the pair, and Ewan once again came out on top with the first stage of the ‘Tour of the Future', a 145.8km stage between Louhans and Arbois. So far, Zabel's runner-up placing to the Australian is as close as he's got with Ewan now defeating Zabel on three occasions.
The Australian team had reconned the stage prior to the event, and it was homework which clearly paid off with the 1.7km 6% Cat.4 climb just four kilometres before the finish, followed by two sharp right-hand bends coming into the final 200 metres proving challenging.
"The stage was not that easy because we do not know if the last climb would be difficult," Ewan said following his victory, reported directvelo.com. "It was a perfect stage for the sprinters until we got to this climb. But the guys on the team did a great job today and I just had to follow them."
A breakaway of two riders had escaped the bunch early on in the stage, building an advantage of around six minutes until the Belgian and Australian teams took responsibility for the chase with around 40km remaining. With 10km to go, Ewan's teammates Jayco Herald Sun Tour winner Calvin Watson, Brad Linfield and Adam Phelan had reduced the gap to a minute with Sam Spokes them leading the way ahead of the all-important climb. With the threat of the breakaway over, Damien Howson then ensured Ewan was in an ideal position on the climb.
"At the top, I moved into third wheel," Ewan explained. "At this point I felt good.
"On the descent, Damien moved into the lead and I put myself on his wheel. He took me up to the last 800 meters and then I was by myself to 400 meters. I knew I had to turn first in the last corner, 200 meters from the line. That's what I did."
Spokes is the best-placed Australian on general classification following the stage, six seconds off the lead of France's Alexis Gougeard. Ewan is three points back in the sprint classification with Julian Alaphilippe (France) leading on 33 points.
Monday's stage 2 is again likely to finish in a sprint with the Australian team indicating it would look to the breakaway to ease pressure on the 19-year-old. The rider himself however, was not keen to back away from the challenge.
"I'm in good shape, I can win again," he said.
Earlier this season, Ewan took out the overall at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic in just his second year at the hotly-contested criterium event in Geelong, Australia. Since heading to Europe with the Jayco-AIS WorldTour Academy squad, Ewan has also picked up wins at the GP Palio del Recioto, La Côte Picarde U23, two victories at the Thüringen-Rundfahrt U23 and at the Tour Alsace.
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