GEELONG, Australia (VN) — Caleb Ewan is still hoping to deliver his first official victory in his new Lotto-Soudal jersey, but he knows it won’t be easy.
Just days after being relegated for a head-butting incident in stage 5 at the Santos Tour Down Under, the Australian sprinter lines up Sunday eager to make amends in the 164-kilometer Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Ewan, who won the stage but was relegated in an intense battle for the wheel, said he’s put the incident behind him as he moves toward the season’s next big goal.
“It was disappointing at the moment, but you can only take something positive out of the situation,” Ewan said. “I was happy with my sprint. I was fast enough to beat those guys. I don’t have my name on the result, but that doesn’t matter.”
Ewan is keen to win on home roads before leaving Australia to deliver a victory for Lotto-Soudal. The 24-year-old left Mitchelton-Scott last year in an acrimonious split with the Aussie outfit to take over from André Greipel in Lotto-Soudal’s highly successful sprint train.
He won an unsanctioned criterium and was second in stage 2 at the Tour Down Under, only to win and then see his victory stripped after head-butting eventual winner Jasper Philipsen (UAE- Team Emirates) in the heated finale.
“I’d love to be in the sprint. It’s such a hard final that it could go either way,” Ewan said. “I’ll be expecting a lot of attacking on that final lap. We’ll go full-gas to try to get to the line and make our sprint.”
When asked who on Lotto-Soudal’s lineup was tasked with getting him over the Challambra climb, Ewan joked, “All of them.”
The Challambra “wall” — short at about 1km but with very steep ramps — will split the bunch with two passages on the final circuits of the men’s race. In Saturday’s women’s race, the climb was the race-breaker.
Ewan knows that it won’t be easy to get over the climb with the explosive puncheurs, and still have time to latch on with about 9km to go to the finish.
If he makes it to the final bunch sprint, he’ll have to square off against the likes of a red-hot Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Michael Valgren (Dimension Data).
“It’s one of those races when it can be a small bunch sprint or it can break into pieces,” Ewan said. “You just never know, so I guess that’s why it makes it so exciting.”
If Ewan comes up empty Sunday, his next stops include the Emirates Tour, Paris-Nice and Milano-Sanremo. Ewan’s hoping to get into the winner’s column by then.