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Ewan opens account with Lotto Soudal

Australian takes confidence-boosting victory while team looks to rebuild sprint train around him.

ADELAIDE (VN) — A crit victory never felt so good.

The way Caleb Ewan celebrated his victory at the end of a one-hour evening criterium to open “TDU Week” you’d think he might have just won a stage at the Tour de France.

Ewan certainly had the Tour on his mind as he kicked to his first (unofficial) win of the 2019 season.

“It is not an official UCI victory, but it’s still a great feeling to win here with racing and preparing with the team,” Ewan said. “It gives a lot of confidence to conclude this first experience with a win.”

This victory was just what Lotto Soudal brass was hoping for. It signed the 24-year-old Australian to a two-year deal hoping he can deliver wins across the entire calendar.

The team is rebooting its sprint train following the departure of stalwart sprinter André Greipel, who raced with the Belgian team from 2011 to 2018.

“He’s new to us and we are new to him,” said Lotto Soudal captain Thomas De Gendt at the line. “We are still working out the sprint train, but this is a nice way to start the season. We hope to have many more.”

Ewan is hoping the win sets the tone for his move to the Belgian team after turning pro and racing with Mitchelton-Scott for six years.

Ewan’s move to Lotto Soudal came in the wake of his Tour de France snub last winter. After Ewan won stages in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, Mitchelton-Scott officials had publicly announced that he was slated to race his first Tour.

Weeks before the Tour started, however, management back-pedaled and said Ewan would not be racing. Officially, management cited a GC commitment and said there wasn’t enough team on the reduced eight-man roster to accommodate a sprinter and a few helpers. Behind the scenes, however, it appeared that word leaked that Ewan’s deal to move to Lotto Soudal was already in the works.

No matter the real reason behind Ewan’s Tour exclusion, his departure simply served to reconfirm Mitchelton-Scott’s focus on grand tours.

It also comes as confirmation by Lotto Soudal to rebuild its sprint train around Ewan.

Ewan’s move to Lotto Soudal comes in the wake of the departure of franchise sprinter André Greipel, who moved to French outfit Arkéa Samsic for 2019. The German sprinter won 11 stages in the Tour with the team, in a streak that included at least one stage win from 2011 through 2016. Also gone are Lars Bak and leadout man Marcel Sieberg.

A new train is being bought around Ewan, who brought his preferred leadout man Roger Kluge with him from Mitchelton-Scott. Adam Blythe comes across from Aqua Blue.

“We are working on perfecting the train,” De Gendt said. “It will take some time because everyone has not been racing together. This week will be very important for the rest of the season.”

Sunday’s criterium saw sprint rival Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) get caught up in a final-lap crash, but Ewan had the legs to hold off Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the rest of the field.

“I felt that Sagan was on my wheel but I was confident that I could hold him off,” Ewan said.

Ewan clearly has the confidence, but will he have the legs to fend off the likes of Viviani and Sagan when it counts?