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Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne: Caleb Ewan still ‘on track’ for Milan-San Remo despite COVID-19 infection

The Australian sprinter was pipped to the win by Fabio Jakobsen at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, a late addition to his calendar after catching COVID-19.

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Caleb Ewan says he’s still on track for Milan-San Remo in mid-March, despite catching COVID-19 earlier this month.

Ewan was forced to change his spring schedule after picking up the virus on the way back from the Saudi Tour at the start of February.

Rather than head back to the Middle East for the UAE Tour, he chose to stay in Europe and ride the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, where he won a stage, and at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The Australian sprinter was pipped to the line by Fabio Jakobsen in Kuurne, but he believes his form is heading in the right direction ahead of his major spring goal of Milan-San Remo.

“I had it like, I think, half the peloton, especially those that came from Saudi because we were all on the same flight,” Ewan said. “I had to have a few days off for some isolation. It messed up the preparation a little bit, but I was already in good form. I took it as a bit of a rest period. Luckily it was just after a race so I had time to rest and then I came back for Haut Var and I could win straight away and today I felt good today.

“Everything is on track. I’ve got Tirreno-Adriatico in a week’s time so hopefully there will be some more chances to win there first and take the form to another level and hopefully do well in San Remo.”

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Prior to the race start, Ewan picked himself, Fabio Jakobsen, and Tim Merlier as the guys to beat if it came down to a bunch sprint. The Lotto-Soudal rider hadn’t accounted for a three-man breakaway almost making it to the line.

The peloton left it until the final meters of the race to bring back the group, which held a tiny 10-second lead for a very long time. It meant that Ewan had to burn through lead-out men in an effort to bring the trio back. He also had to rely on a little bit of good fortune to avoid it all being for naught.

“I had Jasper with me, but he did a lot of work to keeping me out of the wind and in position, so he couldn’t really do his last-man job,” he said. “For sure, we were under guyed, because we had two guys riding to get the breakaway back. They did a great job, but we were missing a few guys at the end.

“I was really far back in the last corner. I knew it was going to be a headwind sprint, so I didn’t panic too much but I definitely needed to have a bit of luck to come through on the inside on the barriers and was able to come out and do the sprint.”

Ewan was in a far better position when the reduced bunch lined up to overtake the ailing breakaway, charging up the center of the long straight Brugsesteenweg in Kuurne. However, he couldn’t match the pure pace of Jakobsen and the Dutchman won by half a bike’s length to take his fifth win of the season.

“Obviously, I came here to win and not come second. I have to be happy with my form. It was a bit of a last-minute call-up to come here, usually, I would do the UAE so I’m happy with how I performed,” Ewan said.

“It’s probably the best weekend we’ve had for a while. I think we haven’t won an opening weekend for years so I was hoping that I could win today for the team. Fabio did a great ride and a great sprint. He’s flying at the moment, so he was always going to be hard to beat.”