Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) described his feelings as a mixture of "relief and joy" at clinching a hard-fought first career Giro d'Italia stage victory on Friday in Alberobello after several near misses.
In the twisting, narrow stage 7 finish, the young Australian's combination of speed and good positioning and a strong ride by his team throughout tipped the victory in his favour. But as Ewan explained, the win was more than timely, too, as the pressure he had placed on his own shoulders to win had been rising steadily since last Friday's start in Sardinia.
"I came to this Giro d'Italia with a lot of expectations, and a lot of expectations from myself," Ewan said. "Every sprint that's gone by there's been extra pressure and it's been building and building.
"The first few stages I got close, but then had some bad luck." That seemed apparent particularly when his foot dislodged from his pedal on Saturday in Tortolí. Ewan still eked out a ninth place though that day, showing, as the Orica-Scott rider said afterwards, that while he was "devastated" by such a late incident wrecking his chances, his underlying form was good.
That good sprinting condition became very clear in Albertobello's tricky sprint finish.
"The last three or four kilometres were really technical, and the most technical part of all were the last 500 metres. I just had to make sure I was in a good position, coming into that last kilometre. Luka [Mezgec] did a perfect lead out, and I went a little bit early. But it was beneficial to get a good line through those corners.
"It's a big relief to take the win, and there's no better way to repay your teammates than by taking the victory."
Following Ewan's breakthrough result in the Giro d'Italia, interest amongst the Italian journalists centred as much on his apparently unusual sprinting style on the bike - "your nose is right over your front wheel" as one local reporter bluntly put it - as on the victory in itself.
"I haven't always ridden like that, it's something had to learn," Ewan explained, although he later said he had tested it out for himself. "I had to practice in training and then 18 months ago, I started using it in the races. I found it was beneficial and I'm comfortable doing that in my sprints now. The way my body is, being quite small, with short legs, and longer upper body, it helps me in that position. For sure not everyone can do it, but if you have the right body make-up for sure you can practice getting that position."
"It's pretty obvious going at 70 kilometres per hour, the more aerodynamic you are the faster you go. Not so many people try to get so aero in the sprints as they do in the time trials and I think it's actually very beneficial."
While Orica-Scott teammate Adam Yates is poised to go into attack mode as soon as the race hits the mountains, for now Ewan's victory continues Orica-Scott's lengthy history of stage wins in the Giro d'Italia. Since Orica-GeenEdge's creation in 2012, the Australian squad have clinched stage wins in the Giro every year bar one. Before Friday, the last Australian to take a bunch sprint victory in the Giro d'Italia was Michael Matthews, when with Orica-GreenEdge, back in the first week of 2015. Overall, Esteban Chaves podium finish, stage win and time spent in leader's jersey last year have capped Orica-Scott's GC achievements in Italy's Grand Tour so far. But while Adam Yates' final GC Giro results this year obviously remain an unknown for now, Ewan's win has continued the team's tradition of Italian success in the best possible way.
For Ewan personally, taking his second Grand Tour stage win after the Vuelta a España uphill sprint win in 2015 represents what he called "probably one of the biggest wins, together with the Hamburg Classic last year. But this win has probably brought me the biggest joy out of all of them."
As Ewan told Cyclingnews before the Giro d'Italia started, he had already made a big step up this year, starting with the sensational series of four stage wins in the Santos Tour Down Under, going on to Abu Dhabi, where he took a stage victory. Now, after briefly leading the Tour de Yorkshire, his final warm-up race, he has more concrete confirmation that he is moving up the sprinters hierarchy with his first Giro stage win.
"I don't think consider myself the best but I'm working towards it, it's a work in progress. Hopefully soon I can be challenging in all the GTs," Ewan said. In the Giro d'Italia, he's already doing more than that.
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