Another day and another stage win for Caleb Ewan, but the manner of this victory was completely different from what the cycling public has seen of the diminutive sprinter so far this summer. After a tough race, which included the gruelling mid-stage ascent of Vesper?s Hill and an uncategorised climb with 6 kilometres remaining, Ewan was part of an attack that comprised of only 5 others over the climb. He was then able to counter moves by Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and Jack Bobridge (Trek) and win in the sprint to the finish. Ewan spoke to Peloton Cafe after the stage.
?It was much tougher than the usual sprint finish. The team rode superbly today keeping me up the front on the climbs, I struggled through the middle climbs, then they kept me at the front for the last climb. It was harder than I expected, near the top I knew Kennaugh and Bobridge were going to be super strong over the top, so I couldn?t let them get away, so I jumped on them and held on for my life really. It?s a massive confidence boost, knowing that in the harder stages I can still be strong enough to be there and win the sprint.?
The stage started fast and hard, with riders constantly on the attack trying to get away in the early break, with the peloton going very fast and reabsorbing any small moves which got momentary traction. One such foray was a solo attack which lasted through the first intermediate sprint point, and upon the Australian road champion?s capture a move finally stuck, with Chris Harper (State of Matter/MAAP) and Yuma Koishi (Nippo Vini Fantini) getting away. The peloton decided to finally slow the pace, and the gap quickly ballooned out to five minutes.
The middle portion of the stage had a series of tough climbs, and despite Koishi winning the intial KOM sprint, he quickly found himself in trouble on the very difficult ascent of Vesper?s Hill, losing contact with Harper, forcing the State of Matter/MAAP rider to go solo. This may have been to the young Australian?s advantage, as without competition for the points, he ended the day in the KOM jersey, and holds a slight lead on Chris Froome. Back in the peloton Avanti IsoWhey Sports used Vesper?s Hill as an opportunity to raise the pace significantly, presumably with the intention of making the race too hard for the purer sprinters like Ewan and putting the race more in the favour of their riders of more mixed abilities. A number of riders were dropped by this upping of the pace, and those that weren?t were fatigued, which would come into play later.
Harper?s advantage quickly tumbled due to the pressure being put on in the peloton and he was caught with 30 kilometres remaining in the race. This prompted an attack, with Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti IsoWhey Sports) launching off the front, being joined soon after by New Zealand national road race champion Jason Christie (Kenyan Riders Downunder) and Cam Bayly (Attaque Team Gusto). The trio pushed their gap out to a minute, but at that point the peloton woke up, and Team Sky and Orica-Greenedge worked together to bring the escapees back. Their chase clawed the three riders back gradually, and when they were caught with 8 kilometres remaining, the race was really heating up.
Through a change in wind direction and the fast run-in to a kilometre long uncategorised ascent, the peloton began to disintegrate, as the day?s hard racing began to take its toll. Splits quickly formed as Team Sky put the hammer down on the front, and then the climb saw Bobridge attack, with Kennaugh swiftly moving to cover the move. Ewan, Chris Froome (Sky), Jack Haig (Orica-Greenedge) and Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare) managed to scramble across to the move. With six kilometres remaining to the finish at the top, there wasn?t enough time for the remnants of the peloton to bring them back, and with just over a kilometre remaining, Kennaugh hit out for the stage victory, trying to avoid a sprint he would lose. Ewan managed to get over the race leader along with Putt, and then he waited and launched his sprint with just over 200 metres to go. Putt made a valiant attempt to hold the wheel, but Ewan kkept accelerating away, winning comfortably in the end, with Putt 2nd and Kennaugh three seconds back in 3rd. Peter Kennaugh explained how the end of the race played out.
?Everyone was racing on quite tired legs, and I think that?s why it split in the crosswinds at the end. Jack Bobridge put in a really strong attack on the climb, I still had a few teammates with me, but I didn?t want to take any chances with a guy like Bobridge. He?ll get 10 seconds and you?ll never see him again. I just covered his move then gave it one dig at the end. I knew that it was going to be hard to shake Caleb, but I thought I might catch him off guard. In the end I stayed on the front and rode in as I saw that I?d dropped Bobridge and I could extend my lead.?
Kennaugh retained the leader?s jersey, and even extended his advantage over Froome (13 seconds), Bobridge (31 seconds) and Haig (48 seconds). With the sprinter?s jersey and the team classification as well, it appears to be shaping up to be a very successful Australian outing for the British-based Sky squad. Chris Hamilton (KordaMentha National Team) retained the young rider?s jersey, with Chris Harper taking the KOM polkadots after his breakaway efforts.
Stage 3 is 146.2 kilometres from Traralgon to Inverloch and looks likely to end in a sprint finish, although it is likely to be windy at the finish which could wreak havoc on the peloton, as the conditions did in today?s stage.
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Images copyright Con Chronis