CAN he ever fill the big, big shoes of Robbie McEwen, Australian road cycling’s greatest-ever sprinter? Caleb Ewan is starting to answer that question, writes cycling expert JOHN TREVORROW:
AUSTRALIA’S Caleb Ewan made up for the disappointment of stage one with a brilliant victory into the Provincial town of Sisteron on stage three of the Tour de France on Monday night..
In probably the most impressive sprint win since the legendary Robbie McEwen won stage 1 of the 2007 Tour into Canterbury, Ewan came from nowhere and slalomed his way through smallest of gaps to blast past Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and deny the Irishman his first Tour victory.
You have to watch the overhead vision to really appreciate just how good that stage victory really was. At 200 metres to go Ewan is no chance. Superstar Peter Sagan has hit the front and the riders were all across the narrow road and there looked like there was no way Ewan could win.
But with amazing bike handling skills the pocket rocket, riding for Lotto Soudal, managed to dive into a hole that Bennett had created and his speed was so high that he just flew past everyone.
An ecstatic Ewan punched the air and was surrounded by his teammates. “Everyone stayed motivated. We knew that if it all went right then I could win the sprint,” a relieved Ewan said. “Everyone gave 110% today and made up for the two guys we are missing.” He was referring to teammates Phillippe Gilbert and John Degenkolb who crashed out on day one.
Ewan has been touted as the heir apparent to McEwen since he burst on the scene as a 17 year old at the Bay Classic criteriums in Geelong. The brilliant young sprinter is the best thing to come out of Bowral since Bradman and now has four stages wins in only his second Tour chasing McEwen’s 12. Although it did take Robbie three tours to win his first stage. McEwen is the only sprinter that I reckon could have produced as fast a finish as that.
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Australia’s big hope for a high overall placing, finished safely in the bunch and will be looking to stage 4 mountain finish at Orcieres-Merlette to make his first challenge. The diminutive Aussie sits in 34th place in a group of 30 contenders but only 17 seconds behind flamboyant Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe who also finished safely in the middle of the peloton.
The stage from Sisteron is only 160 km which should ensure aggressive racing from the gun but that has been the case in the three stages so far. It is the first real test for the GC contenders. Sure day two had tough cat 1 climbs but they were too early in the stage. Stage 4 has four category 3 and 4 climbs just to soften up the legs for the finale which sees nearly 20 kms of climbing, but it’s the last seven kms to the first summit finish of the tour that will show us who are the contenders and who are the pretenders.
If Richie plays his cards right, a late attack could see him grab the yellow jersey. Mitchelton Scott also have two great opportunities to do the same. Adam Yates showed in stage 2 that he has explosive power at the moment and is lying second only four seconds down and Esteban Chaves is currently 10th at 17 seconds.Embed from Getty Images
With the final 40 kilometers being pancake flat, the 198 km stage three from Nice was always going to result in a group sprint. But just as predictable was the early breakaway. Three riders jumped off the front virtually from the get-go, but the peloton did not give Benoit Cosnefroy, Anthony Perez, and Jérôme Cousin much leeway.
The skies opened up and the riders were obviously nervous after the carnage of day one, but the three escapees worked well together and raced each other for the climbing points up for grabs. After Perez secured the lead in that Polka dot competition, he and Cosnefroy said goodbye to Cousins and returned to the peloton leaving Cousins to settle into a solo rhythm and was only reeled in 16 kms from the finish. I felt for Perez who had secured enough points to guarantee wearing the prestigious climbers polka dot jersey the next day. But that will not be the case. After returning to the relative safety of the bunch, he had a mechanical and in the ensuing chase to get to the bunch he tangled up with his team vehicle, crashed and broke his collarbone.
Top 10 – Stage 3
1 EWAN Caleb (Lotto Soudal) 5:17:42
2 BENNETT Sam (Deceuninck – Quick Step)
3 NIZZOLO Giacomo (NTT Pro Cycling)
4 HOFSTETTER Hugo (Israel Start-Up Nation)
5 SAGAN Peter (BORA – hansgrohe)
6 THEUNS Edward (Trek – Segafredo)
7 BOL Cees (Team Sunweb)
8 TRENTIN Matteo (CCC Team)
9 COQUARD Bryan (B&B Hotels – Vital Concept p/b KTM)
10 BONIFAZIO Niccolò (Team Total Direct Energie)
Top 10 – GC
1 ALAPHILIPPE Julian (Deceuninck – Quick Step) 13:59:17
2 YATES Adam (Mitchelton-Scott) 0:04
3 HIRSCHI Marc (Team Sunweb) 0:07
4 POGACAR Tadej (UAE-Team Emirates) 0:17
5 FORMOLO Davide (UAE-Team Emirates)
6 BERNAL Egan (INEOS Grenadiers)
7 DUMOULIN Tom (Team Jumbo-Visma)
8 HIGUITA Sergio (EF Pro Cycling)
9 MARTIN Guillaume (Cofidis, Solutions Crédits)
10 CHAVES Esteban (Mitchelton-Scott)