Caleb Ewan is in the early stages of his career, but he’s already enjoyed a rollercoaster ride of an introduction to the Abu Dhabi Tour.
The 23-year-old Australian, who only turned professional in 2014, crashed out on the first stage of last year’s event in Abu Dhabi and was then caught on the line by Marcel Kittel on Stage 2 after raising his arms in celebration too early.
That stunt left him distraught despite seeing him gain possession of the best young rider’s white jersey, but a year on he claims his race in the UAE capital 12 months ago taught him a lot.
“Last year I crashed on the first stage with 5km to go so I’m off to a better start this year,” said the Mitchelton-Scott man who was again given the white jersey on Wednesday after claiming third place on the opening stage behind winner Alexander Kristoff and Andrea Guardini.
“I learnt a lot from last year, obviously the main thing was to not celebrate too early. It’s not the most important race but in other ways it is.
“To beat some of the other big sprinters here is a bonus. You have them all here where you can afford to experiment and stuff it up a little bit maybe, it’s a good thing.”
Analysis of the rider data from the @Abu_Dhabi_Tour Stage 1 final sprint which involved @TeamUAEAbuDhabi's @Kristoff87, @MitcheltonSCOTT's @CalebEwan and @quickstepteam's @eliaviviani #RideToAbuDhabi #roadcycling #procycling #uciworldtour pic.twitter.com/b52QnHhypg— Velon CC (@VelonCC) February 21, 2018
The Sydney native feels victory eluded him as he started his sprint a little too early, but he was pleased to compete against and beat some of the best sprinters in the field, with Elia Viviani, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel all finishing behind him.
“I’m happy with my sprints. It’s good signs for the next few stages,” added the youngster.
“We’re probably not going to get a sprint field this good until the Tour de France. You can watch videos but there’s nothing like racing them and we won’t get a field this good so it’s good to race here and it would be even better to get a stage win here.”
And while Ewan can be content with third, he says it proves you have to be at your best when competing against the best.
He added: “The finish line always looks much closer than it is. So, when I went it felt like it was right there.
“I settled into my sprint then realised after a few seconds I went a little early. And in a sprint field like this you really need to nail your sprint. All the best sprinters are here so I had to nail the timing.”
Team Dimension Data riders and chiefs were left fuming after star sprinter Mark Cavendish was forced to abandon the Abu Dhabi Tour after he was hit by an official race vehicle – prior to Wednesday’s first stage even starting.
The 32-year-old Brit was floored, along with three other riders, when the race director’s vehicle appeared to brake suddenly in font of them in the neutralised zone.
The Manx Missile rejoined the peloton but was forced to the side of the road after just 5km and pulled out. He was immediately taken to hospital suffering from concussion and whiplash, but a serious neck injury was avoided.
Dimension Data confirmed Cavendish fell on the same shoulder he fractured in the heavy crash with Peter Sagan which forced him to abandon the 2017 Tour de France on Stage 4.
Teammate Mekseb Debesay, Team Sky’s Leonardo Basso and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani CSF) were also caught up in the low-speed crash but all three managed to finish the race.
Dimension Data colleague Mark Renshaw said the incident didn’t look good for race organisers, with Cavendish the Tour’s ambassador.
“I can’t say if it’s his (race director’s) fault or not. I hope it isn’t because he’s the ambassador for the race so it wouldn’t look very good to take out your face of the race,” said the Australian, post-race.
“I don’t know what happened. I didn’t see it. But I spoke to him straight after, he came back into the bunch and I asked him if he was ok and he said his head and neck were really sore.
“It must be bad if he stopped the race because he’s one of the hardest guys I know.”
And Renshaw also rued the incident as it wrecks the team’s plans for the rest of the Tour.
He added: “It’s a massive blow for us because we came here to win one of these three stages and now we can’t really do much until the time trial and Steve Cummings and then the uphill finish.”
Renshaw claimed the incident in the neutralised zone prior to a race starting was not uncommon, saying: “I think the neutral zone’s probably one of the most dangerous areas. Guys not concentrating, cars close to the bunch, guys moving up and down, so it’s dangerous.”
But his comments were in stark contrast to the team’s sports director, Roger Hammond, who said: “No, it’s not common, it’s really rare, otherwise we’d know about them.
“We wouldn’t be talking about it. That’s why we’re here. S*** happens, we can’t beat around the bush, it’s not good.
“Nobody really knows what happened. There’s loads of rumours coming from the peloton. The most important thing was picking him up off the road and getting him assessed.”
🇦🇪 #AbuDhabiTour Injury Update— Team Dimension Data (@TeamDiData) February 21, 2018
"@MarkCavendish sustained a concussion and a whiplash injury after his crash today. Due to the concussion, we were not willing to risk rider safety and the call was made for Mark to stop the race." - Dr. @Aid326
Details: https://t.co/W2VcOJ9U9O pic.twitter.com/oe6Xo378ym
Hammond said Dimension Data were awaiting confirmation on the extent of Cavendish’s injuries, with the Manxman scheduled to next compete in Italy at the Tirreno–Adriatico from March 7-13 and Milan–San Remo on March 17.
“I got a message at 10km to go saying they’d had scans and an X-Ray, they’re just waiting for the diagnosis,” added Englishman Hammond of his compatriot.
“Concussion and whiplash, that’s what the doctor said, or thought it was. We’re waiting for confirmation. I wouldn’t be surprised as he sent me through a picture of him in a neck brace, so we’re obviously worried about that. It needs to be confirmed.”
UAE Team Emirates’ sprinter Alexander Kristoff went on to win Stage 1 in Madinat Zayed and said Cavendish’s fall and subsequent withdrawal was a shame for the race.
“I think the car in front braked and he was perhaps fixing something on his bike at the same time,” said the Norwegian. “He got hit quite hard. I heard he was ok but had a headache and his vision was blurred so it’s a pity. He cannot really do anything.”
Alexander Kristoff believes going up against and beating the best sprinters in cycling proves he can do so on the sport’s biggest stages – like the Tour de France.
The Norwegian navigated his way through a packed bunch sprint in Madinat Zayed on Wednesday to claim the opening stage victory of the Abu Dhabi Tour – a poignant one for both him and his new team, UAE Team Emirates, at their home race.
Success follows on from teammate Rui Costa winning the penultimate stage at last year’s event which helped him race to the overall title at Yas Marina Circuit.
Unlike at the Dubai Tour earlier this month where he claimed four top 10 finishes but had to watch as Mark Cavendish won one stage and Elia Viviani two more as the Italian secured overall victory, Kristoff was crowned king of the Al Fahim Stage, clinging to Mitchelton-Scott rider Caleb Ewan’s wheel and stalking the Australian as he made his move before passing him close to the line.
Quick-Step Floors’ Viviani was fourth, while German duo Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel lagged behind in 10th and 15th places respectively.
And Kristoff admitted victory gives him confidence going into the remainder of the season.
“For sure. It’s also a WorldTour race so there’s lots of good riders here. All the best sprinters,” said the 30-year-old reigning European champion.
“We were missing some guys and Cavendish crashed out. But apart from that all the best are here so if you can win here it shows you can win at the Tour de France too. That gives me confidence for the rest of the season.”
Kristoff was celebrating a second success in just three days, his victory in the Western Region coming on the back of winning the final Stage 6 at the Tour of Oman on Monday.
And he admitted he could hardly have envisaged a more perfect start to life with UAE Team Emirates.
“Not really. I could have won already in Dubai, but the start is good. To get a win here in the home race is important for me and also the team,” he said.
“We were close in Dubai, I felt good there and in Oman. I found a good way to the front and at the front I know I can beat the best on my good days. It gives me confidence that I can race against the best guys and beat them.”
With the likes of reigning Abu Dhabi champion Costa and 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion Fabio Aru alongside him in Abu Dhabi, there seemed a conundrum for team officials to decide who to choose as the lead rider.
But Kristoff revealed the team has goals every day, and that the General Classification is the biggest one – suggesting that the stage is set for Costa or Aru to take charge.
“We have goals every day,” he added.
“It’s a relief to win and I hope for the same again tomorrow. Hopefully we will not lose too much time for the GC guys on the time trial and then hopefully they can take advantage on the last day and win the race. The GC is the most important thing.”
The stage itself got off to a calamitous start as race ambassador Cavendish collided with the race director’s vehicle in the neutralised zone – before the stage had even officially begun.
The Manx Missile and three other riders were floored when the vehicle in front appeared to brake suddenly. Cavendish, 32, re-joined the peloton only to call it a day 5km later, and the Team Dimension Data man has abandoned his Tour.
A five-man breakaway formed early on as Damiano Caruso (BMC), Vincenzo Albanese (Bardiani CSF), Nikolay Trusov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Charles Planet (Team Novo Nordisk) and Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) pushed the pace.
Italy’s Caruso made a break for it himself later on and led until he was finally reeled in with 13km of the stage’s 189km to go, with the late drama ensuing.