By Roger Vaughan
(Australian Associated Press)
Caleb Ewan has achieved another milestone in a career that could rank among the best in Australian cycling history.
The 21-year-old again showed on Tuesday he is the best sprinter at this year’s Tour Down Under by winning the opening stage.
It is his maiden Tour Down Under stage win and the first time he has held the overall lead in a WorldTour stage race.
So far this year, the pint-sized Orica-GreenEDGE powerhouse has won six out of eight races, including the Australian criterium title and the People’s Choice Classic two days ago in Adelaide.
Ewan was the overwhelming favourite for Tuesday’s stage and the performance not only showcased his vast talent, but also poise and maturity.
“It’s a really proud moment for me,” he said.
“I’ve never led a WorldTour race before and to lead my first one in my home country is a real honour.”
While top sprinters such as Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan are not at the tour, the considerable hype around Ewan is justified.
He is the best Australian sprinter since the legendary Robbie McEwen.
“Ewan, the next McEwen. This guy is gonna be a superstar,” former Australian star Stuart O’Grady said on Twitter after Tuesday’s win.
Ewan made his Tour Down Under debut two years ago and struggled.
But his star has risen rapidly and, last September, he posted his first WorldTour win at stage five of the Tour of Spain.
It is also a perfect start to the race for Orica-GreenEDGE, given their No.1 goal is for Simon Gerrans to win a fourth title.
Gerrans was able to stay out of harm’s way ahead of the tough Adelaide Hills circuit at Stirling that highlights stage two and the crucial Corkscrew climb in stage three.
Always the team player, Ewan thanked Gerrans for letting him try for stage wins.
“For a guy like that, who can really win overall, to say ‘yeah, you can have your goes on the days it’s going to be sprints’, it means a lot,” Ewan said.
It was a typically hot start to the tour, with the temperature in the mid-30s for the 130.8km stage from Prospect to the Barossa town of Lyndoch.
But cloud cover meant it was far from the forecast blast furnace of 40 degrees and there were even a few drops of rain at the finish.
Fulfilling the UniSA national team’s aggressive ethos, Sean Lake attacked from the start and took French rider Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) and Dutchman Martijn Keizer (Lotto Jumbo) with him.
But with Ewan’s teammate Michael Hepburn doing a power of work at the front of the peloton, the trio never led by much more than two minutes.
Lake was eventually by himself and his outstanding bid for a solo win was dashed just inside six kilometres left.
The former rower, who usually rides for the Avanti-IsoWhey domestic team, impressed with a surprise third place earlier this month in the time trial at the Australian road championships.