Caleb Ewan knows he can win San Remo

Caleb Ewan at Tirreno-Adriatico.

by Dane Cash

photography by Cor Vos

For the second time in his career on Saturday, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was left wondering what might have been at Milan-San Remo as a late attacker narrowly managed to hold out and fend off a sprint for the win. Just as was the case back in 2018 when he hit the line less than a second behind Vincenzo Nibali, Ewan won the sprint for runner-up honors less than a second behind Jasper Stuyven in the 2021 edition of the race.

Understandably, coming oh-so-close yet again left Ewan with mixed feelings.

“That confirmed that I could potentially win the race one day,” The 26-year-old Australian said after the race. “Yeah, I’m pretty disappointed this time.”

The first Monument of the season came down to a nail-biting finale as several big names went over the top of the Poggio together. Pre-race favorites like Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphillippe, and Mathieu van der Poel were all there, but so too was Ewan, having handled the final climb with aplomb. With 3 km still to go, no one had managed to dislodge the fast-finishing Ewan from the selection, a sign of preparation paying off for Ewan.

“I knew coming into the race that I was in good form. Like most years, I target this race, and this year I’ve really tried to improve my climbing and I’ve even practiced that exact attack on the Poggio many times before this race and that’s why I knew that in the end, the attacks, if they went there, I should be able to follow,” Ewan said. “I was in really good position on the most part of the Poggio, and when they went, I was obviously suffering a bit but I still had enough left to follow them and I was actually quite comfortable.”

As the lead group rolled into the last kew kilometers with such a quality sprinter in the mix, however, there was not much interest from the rest of the group in helping Ewan keep things under control. Bora-Hansgrohe, Bahrain Victorious, and the Ineos Grenadiers did have two riders each in the group, but Lotto-Soudal did not. When Stuyven made a powerful attack with around 2 km to go, he was able to find some breathing room.

The chasers kept the Belgian in their sights and Soren Kragh Andersen even bridged up to him at least temporarily, but Stuyven held on to take the win, with Ewan’s furious sprint only good enough for second place.

Asked afterward whether having a teammate or two in the finale might have been helpful, Ewan acknowledged that a bit of extra firepower could have made a difference.

“For sure. It would have been nice to have one guy there to keep it together because if that group’s together, then usually I’m the fastest guy there,” Ewan said. “It’s always a lottery in that situation because there’s always going to be attacks. And you have to wait. I can’t just go to the front and bring every break back. I have to take the risk. I took the risk, I did what I thought I needed to do to win and in the end we waited too long.”

Should the Via Roma see a sprint decide Milan-San Remo at some point in the future, Ewan has certainly proven himself a worthy contender. This time, however, a race often considered the best Classic for the sprinters saw one of the fastest in the world come up just short once again.

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