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Caleb Ewan hunting for wins at a UAE Tour built for sprinters

Caleb Ewan is targeting sprint wins at the UAE Tour, which this year boasts five stages that could fall to the sprinters.

DUBAI (VN) – Caleb Ewan hopes to keep his winning momentum from  the Tour Down Under going into February as he lines up against a stacked line-up of sprinters at UAE Tour this week. And if he plays it right, the Lotto-Soudal sprinter could keep the winning going all the way through to his second Tour de France this July.

Ewan scooped up two wins at home in the Tour Down Under last month, carrying on where he left off last year, having won three stages at the 2019 Tour and ending his season with a win at the HC Brussels Cycling Classic.

“It’s always nice to start the season with a few wins and it’s nice to get that momentum going. It’s always positive,” Ewan told VeloNews. “Yeah, it’s like once you get into the swing of winning, hopefully it keeps going from there.”

The UAE Tour start sheet reads like a who’s who of pure sprinters, with Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck QuickStep), Pascal Ackermann (Bora Hansgrohe) and Mark Cavendish (Bahrain Merida) all looking to challenge in the race’s bunch sprints. With so much sprinter machismo at the race, winning is as much about shooting out a warning sign for the season to come as it is about being at the top of the podium.

“I think this race is probably the one time before the start of the Tour we’re going to have pretty much all the all the big sprinters here,” Ewan said. “Getting one here will be great for the confidence. If you win here you get one up on the others.”

The sprinters will be front and center at this year’s UAE Tour, with five of the seven stages catering to fast finishers. The race opens Sunday with a flat 145-kilometer road race around Dubai that looks destined for a bunch kick. On Monday, riders tackle a hilly 165-kilometer stage that finishes up to Hatta Dam. On paper, the hilly circuit could cater to a strong breakaway, should the sprinters teams fail to control the peloton.

The steep uphill drag to Hatta Dam played to Ewan’s strengths in 2019, when he bolted from the field to take his first WorldTour victory of the season.

Stages 4, 6, and 7 all feature pan-flat profiles—three more opportunities for Ewan and the other sprinters to shine.

Ewan is brimming with confidence after his first season with Lotto-Soudal in 2019, a year that saw him switch up a gear and become one of the sprinters to beat. His first year after moving from home team Mitchelton-Scott saw him scooping two stages at the Giro d’Italia to go alongside his hat trick in France. And the 25-year-old thinks that was just the start.

“I feel better and stronger than last year,” he said. “I think I’m still a few years off my prime, I’m still young, I think my best years will come closer to 27-30. Last year I finished my first ever grand tour, and I went into that tour with half the Giro in my legs, I just feel like I have stepped up again and really feel relaxed.”

It’s a sure sign of confidence that Ewan sees newly-signed teammates John Degenkolb and Philippe Gilbert as peers rather than superiors at Lotto-Soudal. The trio are all good bets for a fast finish, but each has a different niche, and 25-year-old Ewan doesn’t feel crowded out by these monument winning heavyweights.

“They’re different sprinters to me. They’re not pure sprinters like I am,” he said. “Obviously Philippe is a classics guy mainly, and John is one for those harder days. He [John] said already that in those fast sprints, he’s gonna be happy to help me, and I think he’s gonna be a really good asset for me as well.”

Although Ewan sees the UAE Tour as merely a stepping-stone in his path to main goals for the year of Milano-Sanremo, the Giro and the Tour, only a win is good enough.

“Every race I go to I have the goal of winning a stage. As long as I can win a stage here, I’ll be happy,” he said. “If I don’t, it will be a bit of a failure.”

Ewan set a high bar in 2019, and he’s looking to raise it further still this year. His first chance to strike a blow against a pack of rivals looking to usurp his sprinter throne comes Sunday, with the UAE Tour’s opening stage into Dubai Silicon Oasis.