Where GC men and sprinters collide: Ewan into overall lead as TDU takes shape

by Matt de Neef


STIRLING, Australia (CT) – Willunga might be the Tour Down Under’s most famous battleground, but Stirling is its most dynamic. It’s a place where stage-hunters and GC men collide. A finish just hard enough to put the best sprinters and the punchy all-rounders on even footing. A place that almost invariably helps shape the complexion of the race overall.

And so it was today on stage 2 of the 2020 Tour Down Under. A stage won by sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) 24 hours after missing out in Tanunda. A stage where defending champion Daryl Impey headlined some noteworthy shuffles in the general classification, while teammate and fellow GC aspirant Simon Yates crashed hard.

“We always know coming here it’s gonna be a pretty tough day and it’s one of those days that can go either way,” Ewan said after winning the stage. “It can be a sprinter like me getting to the finish and winning or it can be guys like Daryl [Impey].

“You know, it was a pretty mixed top 10 – Daryl second and [Nathan] Haas third. Those guys are real puncheurs. So it’s one of those exciting kind of stages, for cycling, because it’s really hard to actually pick before the start.”

True. And yet, as a reduced bunch of around 60 surged up the final rise to the line in Stirling, it was little surprise to see Ewan burst clear and dash to a comfortable victory. He’s won here before after all — the last time the race visited in 2018 — and besides, he had the frustration of yesterday to make up for. Disappointment can be a powerful motivator.

“I think we went into yesterday’s stage with maybe a little bit too [much] of a relaxed approach,” Ewan said. “I told them just to put me on a good wheel but yeah, I think it was a bit more technical than that, especially with a fresh bunch and big long straight roads. It’s always hard to execute something like that.

“Today we spoke about it a bit more … where we need guys to go to and that kind of stuff. So yeah, we learned from yesterday and I think we did a much better job today.

“My team were always there just keeping me out of trouble and keeping me in a good position on that last long climb. And that’s basically what I need — I need the easiest ride possible and they gave me that and they delivered me right near the front of the bunch in that last kind of two K after the roundabout. And from there I could kind of find the wheels by myself and set myself up for a good sprint.”

Ewan’s win today moves the 25-year-old into the ochre leader’s jersey, but only just. He’s on equal time with stage 1 winner Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) but with the total of Ewan’s stage placings being lower — eight vs 14 — Ewan is now in the lead.

But as with Bennett, Ewan’s tenure will last just one stage. On the steep climb to Paracombe he and the other sprinters will fall away while the climbers float uphill and the all-rounders hang on for dear life.

Chief among those all-rounders: Impey. This year’s two uphill finishes will likely thwart the South African’s chances of a third-straight title, but it’s clear he’ll give it his best.

On the opening stage he claimed three bonus seconds at an intermediate sprint, earning himself fourth overall. Finishing second today nets him an additional six seconds over most of his rivals. Impey now sits third on GC — the highest-placed of the overall contenders — just one second off the lead.

He would have liked to win today, of course, but second was no disappointment.

“I think the result is good,” Impey told CyclingTips. “To lose to Caleb is not a bad result. He’s one of the best sprinters in the world. So, yeah, I’m happy to get six seconds today. You know, I gambled not to go for any of the [time] bonuses today. So that paid off.”

It wasn’t all good news for Mitchelton-Scott though. A crash with 1.5 km to go saw Englishman Simon Yates hit the deck hard, injuring his knee. He’d been brought in to bolster the squad’s climbing stocks for this hilly edition of the race. That plan could well be over.

“He banged it [his knee] pretty hard,” said Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White. “He’s taken a fair bit of skin off and he could hardly pedal to the finish line.

“Knees are funny things. You obviously don’t function too well without them, but they can also free up quite quick or go the other way. Time will tell.

“Daryl is in pretty good shape so it’s not going to change our tactics, it might just take one option out of our deck of cards.”

Thankfully that deck still contains Lucas Hamilton, the gun climber from Victoria who might now get his chance at team leadership. He’s well placed at 10 seconds off ochre, in a group of 73 riders that also contains Porte and 2015 winner Rohan Dennis (Ineos) and others.

It was a day of mixed fortunes for Cofidis too. New sprinter Elia Viviani was caught up in the late crash and arrived at the finish with less skin than he’d started with. His teammate, Nathan Haas, meanwhile, claimed third on the stage, moving the punchy all-rounder into fifth overall, at five seconds.

“I’m feeling really terrible for Elia [Viviani] right now,” Haas said afterwards. “We were here for him today, and he’s super hungry so this is a disappointment. But I’m sure a guy like him knows how to come back from this.

“In terms of my third today, the bigger thing for me is that I didn’t really care about my position – I’m just finally feeling my mojo again after what was easily the hardest year of my career-slash-life [with Katusha-Alpecin].

“It’s nice to be back up there, but we do shoot to win. Once that victory comes, it’s gonna be really nice.”

And so, the race is poised for the first of its two important uphill finishes. It’s sure to be a day for the climbers; a day where the GC will take a big leap forward towards its final form. But what form will that be?

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