Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan has begun to assess rivals as he etches closer toward a long-awaited if not overdue Tour de France debut, with Marcel Kittel chief amongst them.
By
Sophie Smith

Source:
Cycling Central
1 Jun 2018 - 10:12 AM 

Ewan is set to compete at the Hammer Series Limburg this weekend and then June’s Tour of Slovenia before the debut that has been four years in the making with Mitchelton-Scott.

Limburg will provide Ewan with an opportunity to further refine his lead-out against competition including Max Walscheid (Sunweb), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) and Chris Lawless (Sky).

Slovenia will be the real litmus test. For pure sprinters, the five-stage race has become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional Tour de France warm-ups including the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de Suisse.

“The sprint field in Slovenia should be quite good," Ewan said. "I think Cav [Mark Cavendish] is going there, and Kittel. It’s probably a race that is a little bit less stressful than the Dauphine or Suisse and you still get the good opportunities to sprint."

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The sprint competition at the Tour de France will be interesting this year not least because of race newcomers Ewan, 23, and Colombian Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors). Add to the mix 24-year-old Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL – Jumbo), who took line honours on the Champs Elysees last year and has eight victories to date this season, and you have the daring face of a new generation to pit against an established, now 30-somethings guard.

Sprinters will have a shot at the first yellow jersey of the race, which coupled with the downtrodden run of some of its most decorated will add to the intensity of flat stages.

Kittel, 30, has shown he has the legs this season but is still working on teething problems at new team Katusha-Alpecin, which he joined after hurtling to a commanding five stage wins at the Tour last year.

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He has noted the loss of pilot Marco Haller to injury, while his squad continues to experiment with the order and timing of its lead-out.

Cavendish, 33, has been affected by a series of isolated crashes that along with Dimension Data teammate Mark Renshaw’s involved sinus surgery and team sponsorship concerns have made for a bleak season campaign felt from top management down.

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Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) has since bounced back from a broken collarbone that saw the 35-year-old sidelined from the spring classics, claiming his sixth victory of the season at the Belgium Tour last week.

It’s more or less all made for an uncertain playing field that left Ewan, who raced against Gaviria, Kittel and Cavendish at the Tour of California, to settle on history rather than recent results when asked who his biggest competition in France may be.

“It’s hard to tell at the moment because all of the sprinters aren’t really in their top condition. Gaviria is obviously going really well,” he said in America.

“I think you really can’t count out Kittel for the Tour. He probably wasn’t going as good this time of year last year, and then once he got to the Tour he was flying.

“You can’t really count Cav out either. A lot of the guys really rise for the Tour. I’m not going to focus on one sprinter going into it. I think there is a lot of good guys that are going to be there.”

Ewan conversely hasn’t had much to rue this year, except maybe for crashing out of Tirreno-Adriatico. In California, he was the best of the rest behind Gaviria and his lead-out train was strong enough in some instances to recover ground before levelling with Quick-Step Floors.

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Ewan has also become familiar with Adam Yates, working harmoniously alongside the climber who he will share team leadership with.

“It’s probably the strongest lead-out we’ve had since I started with the team so I’ve got really good guys in front of me, like Roger [Kluge] and Luka [Mezgec],” Ewan said. “Usually it’s Roger, Luka and then me. Then we’ve got other big, strong guys to get us into good position. I’m really happy with how it’s coming along.”

Ewan also believes his extreme aerodynamic position on the bike will be advantageous.

“I think I’d definitely be the most aero out of them [rivals]. It is an advantage, especially if I hit-out early in the sprints as they’re not really getting much of a slipstream off me,” he said.