ALANYA, Turkey (VN) — It was a near miss for Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), who finished less than half a wheel from upsetting his childhood hero Mark Cavendish in their debut duel on the 145-kilometer opening stage of the Tour of Turkey in Alanya Sunday.
The 20-year-old neo-pro told VeloNews prior to the start that racing his long-time idol was a bit surreal.
“I’ve raced guys like [André] Greipel and [Marcel] Kittel before, but this is my first time to race Cav,” said Ewan, who finished third to the pair at the People’s Choice Classic prior to the Santos Tour Down Under last year. “He was like an idol for me growing up, so to be here racing against him is pretty exciting, but obviously I’m here to try to beat him.”
And nearly beat him he did, coming within inches of crossing the line first.
After a five-man break launched an attack within the first 10km and extended its lead to more than 3:35, the peloton led by Lotto-Soudal, Etixx-Quick-Step, and Torku SekerSpor closed the gap before Ewan found himself joined by teammates Jens Mouris, Magnus Cort, and Adam Blythe on the front with 4km to go.
Unfortunately for Ewan, that’s when things began to unravel a bit.
“Just before we turned onto the main road we were a bit back and it was really hectic with lots of close calls,” Ewan told VeloNews after the stage. “I just said to the guys we will go to the front and if we run out of guys, Adam knows what he’s doing so he can drop back and slot in somewhere, as I felt it was better to be there than lost throughout the bunch.
“But we ended up losing each other anyway.”
According to the 2014 UCI under-23 road worlds silver medalist, the finish was a mad scramble with riders recklessly jockeying for position with 2km to go.
“It was just really hectic with lots of people doing silly stuff and risking it all to get Cav’s and Greipel’s wheel,” Ewan said. “It wasn’t a great finish and it wasn’t very safe — it’s not good to race like that.”
Cavendish picked up his fourth stage win (seventh overall) of the season and incurred a scolding from Greipel afterward, who finished eighth to “hold his line.” The “Manx Missile” believes Ewan has a bright career ahead of him, but he questions Orica’s support for its future franchise player.
“I don’t know if Orica-GreenEdge has so much faith in him,” Cavendish said at the post-race press conference when asked by VeloNews about his thoughts on Ewan. “They don’t ride for a sprint. They didn’t put anybody in to have a pull, which is a bit of a shame because he came close.
“Hopefully they’ll put some more faith in him and ride him to the sprint, as I’m sure he will deliver in the future.”
When pressed further by the media regarding the potential rivalry between the two sprinters, the 29-year-old Cavendish responded humorously.
“I’m not sure, there’s been many, many people in my career that beat me once and then they get a big contract,” he said with a grin. “Usually Lampre picks up everybody that beats me once in a season.”
Ewan’s teammates Blythe and Cort were quick to give their perspective on how the closing kilometers unfolded.
“We lost each other, sadly,” Blythe told VeloNews. “Caleb was slowing for me with 2k to go. I think if I would have went back I would’ve been useless, so I thought I would just try and hold my position and hopefully he would ride a few wheels up to me, but he didn’t.
“Magnus did a super turn for me, but we just lost each other.”
The 22-year-old Cort, a three-time Tour of Denmark stage winner, admits both he and the team have a lot to learn in terms of delivering Ewan to the finish.
“This was my first time in a leadout,” admitted Cort. “I’m not used to working for others in a sprint, but it’s good experience and it’s something I have to learn.
“I think the whole team still has to work on it.”
Blythe believes nerves may have gotten the better of Ewan and had he held his wheel a bit longer, perhaps he could have rolled past Cavendish.
“This was Caleb’s first time sprinting with a leadout against the big guys and I think he was just a bit nervous going into it,” said Blythe. “I think if he rode with the team a bit more it might have been a bit easier for him.
“This is definitely a learning experience, but it’s good that’s he up there and he’s kicking around and I think that’s the main thing.
“Obviously, I take a great deal of confidence going forward from here,” concluded Ewan, who has already recorded five wins in his first full professional season. “Now I actually know I can be competitive against these guys, and hopefully there’s a little bit more respect in the bunch come tomorrow.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.