Only a 21-year-old neo-pro, Caleb Ewan has full backing of his Orica-GreenEdge team, and he's already delivered with a Vuelta stage win.
ALCALÁ DE GUADAÍRA, Spain (VN) — Very few first-year professionals start a grand tour and win immediately, but Australian Caleb Ewan did so Wednesday. In a slight uphill finish to a village east of Seville, the short and stocky sprinter powered ahead of several big stars.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), winner of Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), four-time green jersey-winner in the Tour de France, couldn’t overcome Orica-GreenEdge’s Australian neo-pro.
Out of cycling’s crop of current top sprinters — André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) — only one won a stage in a grand tour in his debut. Kittel won in the 2011 Vuelta, but he was already 23 years old, compared to 21-year-old Ewan.
“Firstly, you have to have a super team that believes in you 100 percent,” Ewan said in a press conference post-stage.
“Some neo-pros take a while to gain respect of team, but my team, straight from start, from the Tour of Beijing last year, they believed in me 100 percent and always worked for me.
“It’s been such an honor to not have to prove myself to them. They respect me, that’s the main thing for me, and that’s the difference between me and a lot of other neo-pros, is a team that supports them 100 percent.”
After a left turn, the last 500 meters of stage 5 rose rapidly. Orica went to the front and drilled it for Ewan. His teammate Esteban Chaves slipped eight seconds back and lost the red jersey, which he had since day two, to Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
Ewan, who debuted as a trainee with the team after placing second in the under-23 world championships last year, is known a pure sprinter. Most followers tipped Sagan, Degenkolb, or Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) for the stage win today — but not Ewan.
“It was tough. I didn’t know it was going to be so hard. I thought it was going to be hard to beat Degenkolb, Sagan in a sprint like that.
“I was in a perfect position into that corner, I didn’t have to make up any spaces, and they probably did, which costs you in a finish like that. I probably felt the best out of them, and that’s probably how I won.
“Uphill finishes do suit me in a way. I don’t have to put out as much power as Sagan and Degenkolb because I’m a smaller sprinter, but probably a finish not as steep as that would have suited me better.”
Ewan is already finding the Vuelta tough, five days it, but he wants to continue. He also wants to continue on his upward trajectory. He said that like most young professionals, he dreams of riding the Tour de France. He added that a stage win and the green jersey would be on his list if he went.
“It’s the ultimate goal,” he explained. “Hopefully this is a first stage to achieving that.”