AUSTRALIAN cycling has known for a while that Caleb Ewan had a lot of potential and now, at his first crack at the Tour de France, he has proven to be an emerging star on the biggest stage in the sport, writes IAN COHEN:
The world’s largest annual sporting event may have been completed under a twilight Paris sky, but there was a real sense that the 2019 Tour de France saw the global dawn of a new star in Australian cycling.
Those within cycling circles have known for the best part of a decade that Caleb Ewan was a special rider. As a teenager, he drew attention after precociously nosing out other much bigger names at the season opening ‘Bay Crits’ around the foreshore of Geelong.
But now he’s announced himself as a genuine contender in the sports biggest race and trying on the title of ‘world’s fastest man’, claiming three stage wins including the prestigious final stage down the famous Champs Elysees.
Just getting onto the paved boulevard was a treat in itself, before the final charge to the line, Ewan telling broadcasters “It’s unbelievable. When we rolled onto the Champs-Elysees, I almost had tears in my eyes,”
“It’s such a surreal feeling and I can’t believe I won the stage.
“It’s been a pretty surreal Tour de France. A third stage victory, and this time this sprinters’ stage, with your parents here, with your wife here, it’s amazing.”
Ewan had to work his way to the line with a split-second decision to go to the opposite side of the road to that of Dutch rival Dylan Groenewegon – an all or nothing gamble that paid off in spades. Both riders were hammering home, gathering in the last three ahead of them, but were running out of space, and the Australian was forced to go ‘via the cape’ to claim victory. A dive to the right, a burst of speed and the greatest win of his career.
“I was patient. I didn’t know how many guys were in front of me, I waded in and then just run at the wheel. I went down the right-hand side.’
One of the world’s best sprinters Mark Cavendish rained praise down upon the Australian on Twitter. “Sure, Caleb Ewan’s raw speed is evident in that last stage of the tour, his third win on debut. What’s more is that he was seemingly in an impossible position out of the last corner. Plus, the right hand side of the road is much slower and full of pot holes – so, so impressive”
After winning the race, Ewan said, “Eight years ago on my first visit to the Champs-Élysées I said I’d win here one day. It’s fantastic that it happened on my first Tour.”
He had dropped out of school in year 11 to chase his dream, and now he is living it out.
The 25-year-old is riding his debut tour in the red and white of Lotto-Soudal, after an un-easy departure from the Australian team Mitchelton-Scott who left him out of their tour roster last year. The uncoupling came about after Mitchelton-Scott moved towards chasing the General Classification (Yellow Jersey) rather than the sprint titles (Green Jersey). A move that had a few scratching their heads at the time, and may now be under more stringent review from team owner Gerry Ryan. But the Australian overseas cycling brotherhood have welcomed Ewan’s success no matter what colors they are wearing.
Make no mistake, the pressure was on the pocket rocket at his new line up after a couple of oh-so-close podium finishes in the first half of the Tour (a third, third, second and third). He had been hand-picked by the team to win stages, especially in France, and after a spluttering start he has now delivered on stage 11, 16 and 21 for his bosses, sponsors and himself!
In a 21-stage event that covers nearly 3,500 kilometres the sprinters have only 6-8 genuine chances to prove their mettle. Many stages finish on mountain summits or in places where sprinting is not possible, so the fast men have to drag their muscly frames up and down the Alps and Pyrenees for a tilt at Paris glory.Embed from Getty Images
Ewan has been the Australian standout, but our ‘national team’ Mitchelton-Scott has certainly made the most of their opportunities at the ‘big loop’.
While disappointed that lead rider Adam Yates was unable to vie for the yellow jersey after losing too much time to the other contenders they became ‘stage hunters’ extraordinaire.
The ever-popular South African champion Daryl Impey was first to win, the foundation rider claiming his victory in a break-away on stage 9. Adam’s twin brother Simon was successful on stage 12, and doubled up again on stage 15 while European champion Matteo Trentin of Italy took out stage 17 for MTS.
A win is a win and it’s been our most successful Tour – four stages at the Tour de France is very impressive. The way we’ve going about it has been pleasing as well, from breakaways. Of the six breakaways we were in, we took four stage wins and another one was cancelled so it’s not too bad of a strike rate”
“The most pleasing thing was the way the boys went about their business. Obviously the number one objective when we came in was to support Adam on the general classification. We already had two stage wins when we had to change our tack, but not only did we change tack, we changed tack very successfully and bagged another two wins as well.
“It’s pretty gratifying. Every year, everyone works just as hard. Some years you have good luck and others bad luck. We’ve been on the tail of some bad luck the last couple of years, but this year we’ve had some good luck, but you make your own luck at the same time.”
To win nearly 20% of the stages on offer is a wonderful result for Mitchelton-Scott, given there are 22 teams competing (many with much larger budgets!) and nearly 180 riders. Some multi-million dollar outfits have been nothing more than cannon fodder, making little impact on the tour, so four stage wins is more than respectable.
But enough of the local flavor, the biggest winner of all was 22-year-old Colombian Egan Bernal who became the youngest winner of the tour and the first from his country. He rides for the massive Team INEOS (formerly SKY) and was a late inclusion after being injured for the earlier Giro D’Italia.
After more than 80 hours of racing the South American won by 1 minute, 11 seconds over teammate and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas. The INEOS/SKY line ups have dominated since our won Cadel Evans won in 2011 – Chris Froome (4-times winner) and Bradley Wiggins have also claimed titles for the British based super team.
And now, sadly, this magical and manic event has drawn to a close. But as the champagne is guzzled in the city of light over the next 24 hours Australian cycling fans can look fondly on the 2019 version of the tour, and be comfortable that Caleb Ewan will be competing at the ‘pointy-end’ for a long time to come.
Overall (Yellow Jersey)
1. Egan Bernal (COL) — 82:57:00
2. Geraint Thomas (GBR) — +1:11
3. Steven Kruijsiwjk (NED) — +1:31
11. Richie Porte (AUS) — +12:42 (Best Australian)
Sprinters (Green Jersey)
1. Peter Sagan (SVK) — 316 points
2. Caleb Ewan (AUS) — 248
3. Elia Viviani (ITA) — 224
5. Michael Matthews (AUS) — 201
Climbers (Polka-Dot Jersey)
1. Romain Bardet — 86 points
2. Egan Bernal (COL) — 78
3. Tim Wellens (BEL) — 75
Young Rider (White Jersey)
1. Egan Bernal (COL) — 82:57:00
2. David Gaudu (FRA) — +23:58
3. Enric Mas (ESP) — +58:20