Aussie Focus

Ewan one of four leaders for Lotto Soudal at Milan San Remo

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has previously won the bunch sprint for second at Milan-San Remo, but that doesn't guarantee the Australian sprinter full team support coming into his first big goal for the 2021 season.

Caleb Ewan, Vincenzo Nibali, Milan-Sanremo

Caleb Ewan finishes just behind Vincenzo Nibali to take second at Milan-Sanremo Source: Getty

Ewan will be tackling his sixth Milan-San Remo, but it will be one where his leadership goals aren't entirely clear, with Philippe Gilbert, John Degenkolb and Tim Wellens all named as co-leaders for the race by Lotto Soudal. In 2018, the 26-year-old Australian was already within sight of victory, winning the bunch sprint behind a runaway Vincenzo Nibali.

Ewan spoke about his and his team's chances ahead of the traditional first monument of the season.

"Unlike two years ago - when I was the lone leader - we now have several spearheads at the start," said Ewan. "That can only work to our advantage. With Philippe and Tim we have two riders who can play a prominent role on the slopes. ”

“The first part of Milan-San Remo is usually a fairly simple match. Once we reach the coast, the speed and stress increase due to the various climbs of the 'Capi'. The two crucial points in the race, the Poggio and Cipressa, are often difficult for me. Usually, I have a hard time surviving the climbs, but hopefully this year will be different." 

Ewan won the final stage of the UAE Tour, outsprinting key rival Sam Bennett before going to Tirreno Adriatico and finishing second to Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on the opening stage. He abandoned the Italian stage race during the third stage with gastroenteritis but still shapes up as one of the fastest men on the startlist.

Ewan's teammate Philippe Gilbert will be looking to complete his collection of Monument victories, the 38-year-old winning Milan San Remo will allow him to join an exclusive club that has completed the grand sweep that is currently only occupied by fellow Belgians Rik van Looy, Eddy Merckx and Roger de Vlaeminck.

“Of course - like every year - I will get the most out of the race,” said Gilbert. “It is still the ambition to win Milan-San Remo, but it will not be easy at all. Of course, Alaphilippe, Van der Poel and Van Aert are the three top favorites for Saturday. But Milan-Sanremo is the only Monument where many different types of riders have a chance to win and that will be no different this year.

"For the pure sprinters it is the only chance of winning in a Monument. That is why it is always so close at the end between the breakaway and the peloton. That is exactly what makes Milan-San Remo a unique race. ”

Gilbert has 17 participations at Milan-San Remo under his belt, and passed comment on how he sees the race playing out, with a focus on the wind direction in the finale currently favouring the sprinters with a headwind forecast for the Poggio.

“Unfortunately I don't have a crystal ball, but this year I expect a quick passage on the Cipressa with a few attacks as well. The wind could also be important during the final; this will - as always by the way - help determine the race.

"I am part of a very strong selection and I only see that as an advantage. In modern cycling, it seems that is the best way to win a race, but in the end, it will be the legs that will decide things.”

The team boasts a former winner in John Degenkolb, taking out the 2015 edition in the middle of what was a purple patch of form for the classics-focused German. In 2021, Degenkolb hopes to use his experience for the team and also seize possible opportunities himself.

“Milan-San Remo is usually the first big lens for the classic riders,” said Degenkolb. “It is and remains a cliché, but Milan-San Remo is the easiest classic to ride, but the hardest to win because of its unpredictable character and long distance. It is an important appointment for both me and the team and I hope we can have a nice day. Hopefully, the legs are good and I can be of added value to the team. ”

After several years of absence, Tim Wellens is once again at the departure of 'La Primavera'. The 29-year-old Lotto Soudal rider has had a strong start to the season and is looking forward to starting as one of the trump cards at Lotto Soudal.

“Milan-San Remo is a long, but beautiful race," said Wellens. "The fact that we are at the start with four spearheads is undoubtedly an advantage. Suppose one of us has a bad day, we still have several options. Should it come to a group sprint, we have one of the world's best sprinters on board with Caleb Ewan. In addition, John Degenkolb is a second fast man that we can win with. ”

“Phil and I have the task not to let anyone surprise us on the climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio and to answer any interesting moves. When I have a super day, I hope to get over the Poggio with the best riders. If not, I will do everything I can to put our sprinters in position. ”

Lotto Soudal squad: Jasper De Buyst, John Degenkolb, Caleb Ewan, Frederik Frison, Philippe Gilbert, Roger Kluge and Tim Wellens.

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5 min read
Published 19 March 2021 at 7:51am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS