A bit more than a year ago, Caleb Ewan was devastated to be left out of the Tour de France.
The Australian sprinter had to watch on TV after finding out at the last minute that his Mitchelton-Scott team was placing all its bets on Adam Yates and would leave Ewan at home.
A year later, Ewan on Wednesday earned his first Tour victory by edging a close sprint on Stage 11 in Toulouse.
“I was ready for the Tour three of four years ago; I always wanted to go straight to the top races,” said Ewan, whose daughter was born just before the race started. “I’ve been held back, I finally got my chance.”
Ewan switched teams to Lotto-Soudal this season to replace veteran German sprinter Andre Greipel, and the ambitious youngster was, at last, promoted to a team leader role this summer.
However, the pressure was big on Ewan, a winner of 36 professional races, including stages at the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia.
After coming close in previous stages with three third-place finishes and a runner-up spot, he finally delivered by edging one of the peloton’s fastest men.
The 25-year-old beat fellow sprinter Dylan Groenewegen by a tire’s width and was awarded the victory after a photo finish.
Ewan perfectly timed his effort after Groenewegen surged on the left side of the road.
“It was super hectic,” said Ewan, who has now completed wins at all three Grand Tours. “I felt I should let him get a bit of a gap so I could sprint in his slipstream, and I could pass him quite quick.”
The win also made up for having to leave Australia just after the birth of his daughter, Lily. He thanked his wife for letting him go to France in such circumstances.
“She let me come here and leave my young baby in hospital,” Ewan said. “It’s the hardest thing I had to do.”
With the race heading into the Pyrenees over the next four stages, the main favorites did not take any risks and there were no significant changes in the overall standings.
Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe kept the yellow jersey, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas.
“I’ve prepared myself for attacks to take place, whether from the favorites or other riders who want to gain time,” Alaphilippe said.
The coming days could be crucial in determining the next champion.
Following yesterday’s two first-category climbs, Thomas — an excellent time-trial specialist — will have a chance to gain time on his rivals in the only individual race against the clock this year.
Then it will be time for the grueling ascent of the Tourmalet — the first of three finishes higher than 2,000m this year — and a final Pyrenean stage totaling more than 39km of climbing.
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