On a day of racing that always attracts huge crowds, there was plenty of action – as well as a few accidents, ripped up kit, and some lost skin – in the lead-up to a hotly contested uphill sprint in the tough finish in Stirling.
Novatech Stage 2 of the 22nd Santos Tour Down Under ended with a familiar sight: Caleb Ewan across the line in first place after a finely timed, fast, strong sprint.
Amongst the crowd at the finish was Ewan’s wife, Ryann, and his young daughter who were glowing after the 25-year-old collected his eighth TDU stage win.
Ewan now leads the race for overall honours but even his team know he won’t have a chance to win the title in 2020, even though he is clearly in stomping good sprint form. The aim was stage wins; he has one now, and there’s reason to be satisfied.
There was also a sense of relief for Ewan and his team as he and the others from Lotto Soudal didn’t appear to have been caught in a crash only 1.4 kilometres from the finish that claimed numerous victims including high-profile riders like Simon Yates (with a “nasty knock to his knee”, according to Mitchelton-SCOTT sporting manager, Matt White), as well as Elia Viviani (Cofidis Solutions Credits), Ben Hermans of the Israel Start-Up Nation team. Hermans sustained a collarbone fracture and is out of the race.
There’ll be other wounded riders because of the accident that happened near the centre of a rather narrow road, and in the middle of a tightly packed peloton, and the medical report of Novatech Stage 2 will be read with interest.
“I’m super happy with that win,” said the new race leader, Ewan, who now leads Sam Bennett on GC (although the two stage winners share the same time and only a count-back on stage placings puts the Australian ahead in the rankings).
Last year’s TDU champion, Daryl Impey, was second in the stage and he’s now ranked third on GC, one second behind Ewan and Bennett. The South African champion was well positioned throughout the stage and his bid for a third successive Santos Tour Down Under title is still on track but it has suffered a setback because of the injuries sustained by Yates.
“The boys did an absolutely perfect job today,” said Ewan. “They did everything I asked for and I got delivered to the line in a perfect position.
“When you take a win like that, you really can’t do it on your own. I said to them yesterday, ‘If I’m going to win today’s stage, it’s a tough one so I need all the help I can get…’ And they really helped me all day and kept me in a good position which meant I could avoid the mess. And that helped me in the end because I had good legs for the sprint.”
After the podium he acknowledged the difficulty of the Stirling stage which features 2,357 metres of climbing.
“We always know it’s going to be a tough day and it’s one of those days that can go either way,” explained Ewan. “It can be a sprinter like me getting to the finish and winning, or it can be guys like Daryl [Impey].
“Today was quite mixed: it was Daryl second and [Nathan] Haas third. It’s a pretty mixed podium. Those guys are a bit punchier and I’m a sprinter, so it’s one of those exciting kind of stages for cycling because it’s really hard to pick a winner before the start.”
Nathan Haas has a new team and a new approach to his racing. Of course, he would have liked it if he earned his maiden TDU stage win but third place in Stirling is a solid consolation. Still, his thoughts after the race weren’t on his result, rather the condition of his team leader at Cofidis Solutions Credits, Elia Viviani.
With the European champion having his wounds tended to in the van behind Haas, the Australian explained his emotions after a frantic day of racing.
“I’m feeling really terrible for Elia right now,” said Haas. “We were here for him today.
“He’s super hungry and this is a disappointment, but I’m sure a guy like him knows how to come back from this.”
Haas then spoke of his own result: “In terms of my third today, the bigger thing for me – as I don’t really care about the position – is that I’m just finally feeling my mojo again after what was easily the hardest year of my career/life last year.”
He summed up the stage with a review of his new approach to racing. “I’ve said this before, but when people believe in you, you start to believe again in yourself.
“I’m hoping I can start to repay the faith that Cofidis Solutions Credits has put him me.
“I was in front of it,” concluded Haas, when asked about the crash. “A big wave just came from the left. I even squeezed me out a lot. I had to slam on my brakes, and I could hear the crash happen.
“I’m told that it wasn’t actually on my wheel, it was a few wheels back. But it was a big, loud bang and I hate to hear that in cycling.”