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ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has started his season in perfect fashion, winning the Tour Down Under’s curtain-raiser criterium for a record-breaking fourth time.
In what was his first race of the year, Ewan sprinted to victory by several bike lengths ahead of European champion Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and his lead-out man Simone Consonni (Cofidis).
As rain fell on the city-centre circuit, Ewan spent the first half of the 30-lap race in last wheel, biding his time. It’s a strategy he’s employed to great effect in recent editions of this race.
“If you’re at the back of the bunch, you can really let the wheel go and take your own lines through the corners instead of braking in when other people are braking,” he said afterwards. “So, yeah, I think I actually saved a lot of energy.
“If it’s too hard at the back, then you can always move up or if it’s cruisy at the back, then you stay there until the pace picks up a bit.”
A six-rider breakaway led proceedings for much of the evening as Ewan’s teammates patrolled the front of the peloton. Ewan started to make his way up through the peloton roughly halfway through the race, just as Josef Cerny (CCC) hit out from the breakaway.
The Czech rider built an advantage that peaked at 12 seconds, before he was eventually reeled in by his former companions on lap 23. The peloton caught the break with about five laps to go as Ineos and then EF Pro Cycling took to the front to set a high tempo.
Coming into the final sprint Ewan was well placed behind his lead-out man Roger Kluge. But when Kluge let a gap open up in front of him, Ewan had to roll the dice.
“I didn’t know what he was doing so I had to make the decision to jump around him,” Ewan said. “But after the race he told me he left the gap and he was going to kind of launch me. But at the time, you know, I wasn’t willing to wait around and see what he was going to do. So I had to just jump myself.”
Ewan made his move along the barriers and quickly hit the front. And when he did, he surged well out of reach of his rivals. It was a definitive statement from a rider who skipped his usual outings at the Bay Crits and Australian Nationals, and who has barely raced since last year’s Tour de France.
“I’ve only done five race days since the Tour de France last year, so it hasn’t been much,” Ewan said. “So I was a little bit nervous coming into today … after having so much time off racing.
“I think I’ve had like five months off racing. I didn’t know how my legs were gonna be, but yeah, I’m happy with where my form’s at.”
Well might he be. The Tour Down Under proper features a handful of stages that could end in a sprint. The 25-year-old will be the rider to beat in each of them.
1. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) 1:04:29
2. Elia Viviani (Cofidis)
3. Simone Consonni (Cofidis)
4. Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates)
5. Kristoffer Halvorsen (EF Pro Cycling)
6. Alberto Dainese (Sunweb)
7 Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck-QuickStep)
8. Sam Welsford (Australia)
9. Christopher Lawless (Ineos)
10. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT)