MUJU, South Korea—Australian neo-pro Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) has already found plenty of success in his return to his mother’s native Korea just three days into the Tour de Korea, slipping into the yellow race leader’s jersey after recording the seventh win of his rookie season with a second straight stage victory in Tuesday’s stage 3.
The six-lap, 99-kilometer circuit race in Muju, which hosted the 174.4km stage 2 finish – also won by Ewan – the day before, was delayed by 30 minutes while race organizers frantically awaited the arrival of Spanish team Burgos BH, which was later disqualified for missing the start.
As expected, the Iranian team Pishgaman-Giant showed early aggression, but was unable to break away when Orica-GreenEdge’s Jens Mouris and Michael Hepburn repeatedly shut down attacks.
“We knew the Iranians were going to be really aggressive today,” an exhausted Ewan told VeloNews post race. “But our team just rode so perfectly and we used Jens and Heppy to start with and they really neutralized all the attacks. I think it made those guys think twice about attacking.”
Each 16.5km lap featured three short climbs, including the highest – a category 4. According to Ewan, the course’s bite was worse than its bark.
“I knew the main climb was going to be hard, but I didn’t expect the two climbs beforehand to be as tough,” said Ewan. “The last two laps were really hard and I thought there was only Mitch [Docker] and I left on the last climb, but the whole team came back together and that’s super impressive, and it made my job a lot easier in the end having almost a full team there.”
Ewan, still showing the abrasions suffered during a crash-marred finish on the opening stage won by previous race leader Wouter Wippert (Drapac Pro Cycling), was more than pleased with his performance considering the injuries suffered during the collision on Sunday.
“I found a little bit extra in the last few laps and I was right up there with all the moves,” he said. “So, I’m pretty happy with how I was climbing today.”
With five predominately flat stages remaining, and the chances of a bunch sprint in each relatively high, the odds of Ewan hanging on in the general classification (GC) are not necessarily against him, but Orica-GreenEdge sports director David McPartland downplayed the notion.
“I expect the next couple of stages to see breaks down the road,” McPartland told VeloNews. “If they do, we are not going to control it as we still have five days to go and I don’t want to put that pressure on Caleb because he’s on the team to win sprints.
“I’m not going to rule it out because it would be great to win a GC with him, but at this stage it’s too early.
“I said at the start of the week we would take it one day at a time and that’s exactly what we are doing so far,” he concluded. “After the misfortune on the first day, we bounced back well, and I’m really happy.”
The eight-day race continues on Wednesday with an undulating 207km stage 4 from Muju to Yeosu with two categorized climbs.
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.