Race analysis by Nick Bull
Observing that Caleb Ewan won stage three of this year’s Tour de France by three-quarters of a bike length accurately describes his finishing speed in Sisteron on Monday afternoon. What it neglects to mention is that, even in this gutsiest, no-prizes-for-the-weak discipline, Ewan showed incredible mental temperament to play a long game and then still have time to produce one of the most incredible passing moves up against cycling’s infamous finish line barriers at speed en route to victory. Here’s how he did it.
1.1KM TO GO
The approach to the finish line on the Avenue Jean Jaurès is fast and chaotic. For the second bunch sprint in three days of this Tour, no team is in control of the peloton this close to the line. Ewan sits second wheel Lotto Soudal team-mate Jasper De Buyst. Passing under the flame rouge, he lets Edvald Boasson Hagen move ahead of him.
This is the Australian’s first smart move of this sprint. “I was a little too far forward so I dropped back into the wheels,” he said. “That gave me a bit of time to rest the legs a little bit before the last hit out.”De Buyst is seemingly unaware of Ewan’s decision. He starts seeking out his team leader, but, failing to spot him after five glances over his shoulders, De Buyst peels off 700 metres from the line.
350M TO GO
Two notable shoulder bumps here. First, Ewan and stage one winner Alexander Kristoff touch, which disrupts the Norwegian rider more. More importantly is the contact between Sam Bennett’s lead-out man Michael Mørkøv, Cees Bol’s pilot Nikias Arndt and Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling). Mørkøv loses his momentum, hindering any chance of him assisting Bennett further.
300M TO GO
Boldly, Peter Sagan (leading) decides to go long on a headwind finish, almost colliding with team-mate Daniel Oss in the process as he veers into the middle of the road. Nizzolo and Bennett are both quick to respond. Ewan (just out of the frame) isn’t.
200M TO GO
Ewan’s path to the line is already clear in his mind: he could have easily followed Hugo Hoffstetter (Israel Start-Up Nation), whose wheel he was sitting in with 200 metres remaining, when the Frenchman moved into the clear air vacated by Sagan on the left-hand side of the road. The Australian doesn’t flinch as the Frenchman goes for it.
150M TO GO
Ewan commits to overtaking Sagan on his right. What looks to be a big gap when he commits narrows dramatically as the fading Slovak also edges towards the barriers. Talk about clarity of mind and strength of character. He somewhat understated the move afterwards, saying: “Coming from behind is a bit of a risk, but I found my way through the barrier, came with a lot of speed and it worked.” Once clear of Sagan – he gets in front of him almost level with the 100m to go marker – he sets about chasing down Bennett.
25M TO GO
Ewan draws level with Bennett. Despite the Irishman’s move off line towards the Australian, Bennett is helpless to stop Ewan from taking the stage – a victory that barely five seconds earlier looked like becoming his maiden Tour de France win. More annoyingly for Bennett, Ewan looks like he’s the fastest sprinter in this year’s Tour peloton.
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Main photo: Cor Vos © CorVos/SWpix.com