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Delivering on his stated ambition prior to the race, Caleb Ewan clocked up the first Grand Tour stage win of his career on day five of the Vuelta a España on Wednesday, dominating the uphill sprint to the line.
The 21 year old Australian beat John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), powering off the former’s wheel and dropping the latter in the sprint. He finished well clear and had ample room to celebrate his success over far more experienced riders.
Jempy Drucker (BMC Racing Team) was fourth with JJ Rojas (Movistar) fifth.
Ewan’s team-mate Esteban Chaves was also in the group but Degenkolb’s team-mate Tom Dumoulin was able to take over the race lead due to a split in the bunch. Dumoulin finished 15th, two seconds back, while Chaves was eight seconds behind Ewan in 21st place.
That puts Dumoulin one second ahead of the Colombian, with Nicolas Roche (Sky) and Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) staying third and fourth.
Ewan celebrated a standout moment for him. “It is an incredible feeling. It is by far biggest victory of my career,” he said.
“It was super tough up there. I didn’t realise it was going to be so hard. My team put me into perfect position, I started the climb at the front. I knew it was a bit too early and so I dropped back a couple of spots onto Degenkolb’s wheel.
“He probably went at the right time but I waited and waited, then went over the top of him and it was perfect.”
Speaking to Eurosport after the stage, team-mate Mitch Docker said that the victory was confirmation of the young rider’s ability . “He is just brand new at a Grand Tour rider but he showed that he can take the step up. It is awesome,” he stated.
“The last part was very hard but the rest was very smooth. There was great work by the rest of the team.”
The 167.3 kilometre fifth stage ran from Rota to Alcalá de Guadáira and was devoid of any categorised climbs. It featured one intermediate sprint at kilometre 149.2, then flatter roads in towards the finish. However there was a ramp up to the line, making the sprint a little more complicated than it might have been.
Inside the first half hour of racing Lampre-Merida’s Tsgabu Grmay went clear alone. After several minutes Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) and Antoine Duchesne (Europcar) bridged across, and together the trio eked out a maximum lead of seven minutes 20 seconds.
Behind, the Tinkoff-Saxo and Giant Alpecin teams of Sagan and Degenkolb worked to bring things back together and these hacked the lead down to five minutes. This further fell by another three minutes due to the added effort of Nacer Bouhanni’s Cofidis team.
Frustrated by Grmay’s decision to stop working, Keisse attacked with a little under 20 kilometres left. However the bunch kept chasing behind and he was caught inside the final ten kilometres, pointing towards an almost inevitable bunch gallop.
Ewan’s Orica-GreenEdge team believed in his chances and did the bulk of the work towards the end. They drove the pace inside the final kilometre and while Degenkolb and Sagan tried to reap the benefits of their work, it was Ewan who was strongest and was able to pull well clear inside the final 100 metres.
“I’m feeling lots of emotion, I’m so happy,” he said. “It means a lot to me to beat two of the best sprinters in the world. That kind of finish suits them but my team did an awesome job and delivered me perfectly.”
The Vuelta a España continues Thursday with a relentlessly undulating 200.3 kilometre race from Cordoba to Cazorla. Two category three climbs rear up towards the end, including the summit finish.
Vuelta a España (2.UWT) Rota → Alcalá de Guadaíra