PESARO, Italy (VN) — It took him longer than he would have liked, but Caleb Ewan was ecstatic to pay back his Lotto-Soudal teammates with victory in Saturday’s eighth stage at the Giro d’Italia.

After a high-profile move from Mitchelton-Scott to the Belgian outfit to replace André Greipel as the team’s top sprinter, Ewan delivered his first major victory in his new team colors at the end of the 2019 Giro’s longest stage.

“It means a lot. There’s always a bit more pressure when any rider changes teams,” Ewan said. “Last year was pretty average for me. It would have been pretty bad if this year was pretty average again. This by far is the high point of the first part of the season.”

Despite emerging as one of the best young sprinters in the peloton, Ewan didn’t even race a grand tour last year with Mitchelton-Scott. After being told he would race last year’s Tour de France, management back-tracked when they decided to take a GC team to France. In fact, Mitchelton-Scott’s continued evolution into a GC-centric team was one of the top reasons Ewan and the Aussie team decided to part ways.

Ewan, 24, has won three times this season — two stages at the Tour of Turkey and another at the UAE Tour — but none of those were truly considered major victories. He came up short at his season debut on home roads, including second at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in February. He just missed wins at Paris-Nice with two second places, so pressure was mounting at the Giro.

At Lotto-Soudal, he is paid handsomely to deliver prestigious wins. Saturday was payback.

After finishing three times in the top-5, including a painful second place in stage four, Ewan knew he needed to come up big.

“The other day when I was second on the uphill sprint [to Movistar’s Richard Carapaz], that dwelled on me,” he said. “You play that over in your mind.”

Ewan came into this Giro with something to prove. He hadn’t raced a grand tour since the 2017 Giro, when he won one stage, but he also ran up against a strong sprinter field in this Giro.

In today’s peloton, there’s not a Mario Cipollini or Mark Cavendish racking up one win after another. Instead, this Giro has a half-dozen top sprinters bumping elbows for the wins. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) already has two wins, with Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), and others banging for the win.

“We were not expecting a dangerous breakaway to go away in the last 30km, so I had to use all of my guys to chase it down,” Ewan said. “These days, there is not one big dominant sprinter, and there are many sprinters sharing the wins. You really have to have the perfect sprint to win.”

Ewan started this Giro with one eye on the Tour de France. In fact, he’ll likely leave after stage 11 following two more sprint opportunities.

The relief was obvious on his face as he smashed it across the line victorious in Pesaro. Now the pressure is off, at least until the Tour de France in July.

“The pressure was building every time I didn’t win a stage,” he said. “I am just happy I could pay back the team for all the hard work and support.”