Tour of Wallonie: Caleb Ewan takes opening stage sprint

First win for Aussie in COVID comeback as he nips Sam Bennett at line.

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Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) kicked to victory Sunday to make the sponsors happy on home roads in the opening stage of the Wallonie tour in Belgium.

The Aussie speedster out-kicked Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) in the 185km opening stage Sunday from Sognies to Templeuve in the Belgian stage race. Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) crossed the line third in a hard-fought bunch sprint.

“My team did a good job in keeping me close to the front,” Ewan said. “The rain and cobbles on the finishing circuit made it a super nervous run-up to the final sprint. In the end I was a little bit far back, but that was perfect since my competitors launched the sprint very early and I could come back in the final meters.”

The win is the first for the team and Ewan since his COVID-19 comeback, and his fourth in 2020. Second in Milano-Torino earlier this month, Ewan couldn’t stay with the fastest at Milano-Sanremo, and finished 113th in the Italian monument.

A team training camp last month in the Vosges is starting to pay dividends.

“I only had two race days since the confinement and I feel that this race is the ideal preparation heading to Tour de France,” Ewan said. “I was disappointed in my performance in Milano-Sanremo last week. It is such a hard race and the heat and the new course made it even harder for me. But I will try again in the future.”

Ewan’s Lotto-Soudal teammates controlled the action in the opening stage, with the sprinter teams working together to reel in an early breakaway. Lotto-Soudal gave their Aussie leader the winning leadout in a frenetic sprint to claim victory.

There was a big fight for position among the sprinters barreling toward the line, but Ewan had the power to nip Bennett at the line in the four-stage VOO-Tour de Wallonie (2.Pro).

The sprinters should have another shot Monday at the flowers in the 172.3km Frasnes-Lez-Anvaing to Wavre in stage 2, and likely in stage 3 as well. Stage 4 gets into hillier terrain that likely will shell sprinters such as Ewan.

“I want to defend the leader’s jersey tomorrow and maybe even the day after tomorrow if I have good climbing legs,” Ewan said “But the fourth stage will be too hard for me. With Philippe Gilbert, we have someone in great form and he knows the local roads. So he will target the GC for team Lotto Soudal.”