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Next Generation: Caleb Ewan

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Jan 19, 2016 – Legendary sprinter Robbie McEwan summed up the first stage of the Tour Down Under in South Australia with poetic simplicity.

James Raison/Yuzuru Sunada

“Too much fitness, too much form, too much speed,” McEwan said of Caleb Ewan’s win, his sixth of the year.

Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under set off just 3km from the Adelaide CBD in the inner-northern suburb of Prospect. It was steamy, windy, dusty and 130km to the finish line after three laps around the famous Barossa Valley wine region in to the town of Lyndoch.

Sean Lake (UniSA), Martijn Keizer (Team Lotto NL Jumbo) and Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale) jumped ahead of the field as soon as the flag had waved.

Lake took the only categorized climb of the day at the 12.8km mark, edging Keizer in a photo finish. The UniSA rider donned the polka dot jersey at the end of the day, continuing a strong start to 2016 for Lake after a bronze medal at the Australian national time trial.

The three-rider break was kept on a short leash. Their advantage rapidly declined from 80km out as Orica GreenEdge set the tempo behind to keep Caleb Ewan “the guy with the freshest legs that wins the sprint in the end”.

The break jostled for the first Cockatoo Valley sprint point. Frenchman Gougeard opened hostilities from third wheel and crossed the line ahead of Keizer and an indifferent Lake. The second sprint points on the following lap were then taken in a bizarre fashion by Gougeard ahead of Lake and Keizer. The police motos were caught unaware of the acceleration behind them and accidentally blocked the riders from a proper sprint. Oops. Keizer would drop back to the peloton soon after.

With 47km to go, the field started to spread across the road and the Orica GreenEdge presence reduced to just Michael Hepburn. Hepburn wouldn’t leave the front until 15km to go.

Sean Lake gapped Gougeard with 22km to go, the Frenchman showing no interest in fighting for the diminishing 25-second gap in the scorching 40C heat.

Lake’s move impressed Robbie McEwan as he commentated on the race.

“This sport is about having a big engine, and knowing how to suffer,” McEwan said about strongman Sean Lake.

Lake bravely stretched his gap to 55 seconds with 16km to go, but was swallowed by the group at the 6km mark.

Sprint trains began forming with 10km remaining. Lampre, Lotto-Soudal, Sky, and Dimension Data appeared to have the best organisation in the punishing wind.

Peter Kennaugh (Sky) took control at the 1km mark, leading a well-organised Sky train. Daryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge) dragged Ewan up the side of the Sky line, dropping him into the perfect position behind fellow Aussie Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data). Adam Blythe (Tinkoff) opened the hostilities from a long way out, but faded as the other sprinters wound it up.

Renshaw was sprinting for himself, but inadvertently gave Ewan the perfect lead-out. The 21-year old Australian jumped out from behind Renshaw and powered for the line, winning by two bike lengths. Renshaw would cross second, with Wouter Wippert (Cannondale Pro Cycling) third.

The impeccable timing, mind-blowing power-to-weight, and impossibly low position begs the question whether Ewan is beatable for the Tour Down Under.

“I need to thank Gerro (Simon Gerrans) for sharing the team with me” said Ewan, still panting from his sprint effort. “For a guy like that who can win overall to say I can have the team to chase a sprint, it means a lot.”

Ewan will lead the GC, sprint, and young rider classification for 132km Stage 2 on Wednesday (20 Jan) from the suburb of Unley to Stirling in the hills east of Adelaide.

What were they thinking?
It’s surprising that a 20-team race allowed a three-man break to fight for the first polka dot jersey, decided only 12.8km in. In the end it was only two men contesting the KOM. This is a short race, every point matters. Also, polka dots look awesome, it has been scientifically proven. Good luck pulling the jersey off Sean Lake, the ex-rower is burly.