After four stages of the Tour de France, the Low Countries have dominated – appropriate, since the race started in Belgium. But Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-QuickStep taking the glory so far has meant that the other grand old Belgian team – Lotto Soudal – has gone winless.
Caleb Ewan has gone the closest for Lotto Soudal so far, taking third on the opening stage in Brussels and once again on stage 4 in Nancy. There's no doubt that the Australian has been one of the strongest men of the first week, but that will provide scant comfort to the Tour debutant, whose stated goal is to win a stage.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed because I'm not here to get third place," Ewan said to a small group of reporters after emerging from the bus after his post-race shower. "I'm here to win, and it's now two sprint opportunities gone, and not a whole lot left.
"I'm happy that I'm thereabouts, and I'm not too far from the win. With a bit of luck, I can get a win."
On Saturday's opening stage he threatened to split the duo of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) to burst through and win but had to check his sprint instead. The finish of stage 4 in Nancy was another case of poor luck, with his Lotto Soudal train having to move up the peloton in the final kilometre.
"You definitely need luck. We came from a little bit too far back today. I think when you come from so far back with a kilometre to go, you use up too much energy to move up, and then when it's time to sprint, you don't have the legs."
"Everything went wrong in 1.5 kilometres from the end," said Lotto's general manager John Lelangue to a cluster of journalists. "[Jasper] De Buyst, Kluge and Ewan lost each other. It's difficult to correct that in the final kilometre. We got Caleb onto Viviani's wheel, but it was too late to contest the sprint.
"Of course we are not satisfied with third place," he continued. "Only first place counts. We'll continue to fight until the Champs Elysées. In the Giro, it didn't work out [in the start], and in the end, Caleb still won two stages. We still have faith in him."
It would be brutal to give up on Ewan after two close-run sprint finishes, but with four to six possible sprints left to contest, and much of the team built around him, there's every chance Ewan will achieve his goal this July.
"It's the biggest race in the world," said Ewan. "It's never going to be easy to win a stage, but I'm confident we can still do it."
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