21-year-old Caleb Ewan has won stage five of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana in his debut season and Grand Tour.
Ewan capitalised on a perfect lead out by his ORICA-GreenEDGE teammates Mitch Docker, Mathew Hayman and Jens Keukeleire on what was tough uphill drag to the finish line.
In the process, the neo-pro got the better of ten-time Grand Tour stage winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and four-time Tour de France stage winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“This is by far the happiest day in my career,” Ewan said. “To beat some of the best sprinters in the world, especially guys like Sagan and Degenkolb on an uphill finish, it really means a lot to me.”
“It’s an honour to race with those guys and to beat them is just unreal for me.
“It was a super tough finish, but my teammates did an awesome job of getting me to the bottom in front position. I even had time to stop back a few spots and that always makes it easier than trying to move up. If it wasn’t for them, there is no way I could have won today.”
Asked if he thought he could win in his first Grand Tour, the Australian credited the confidence the team have entrusted in him.
“To be honest I didn’t know what to expect,” Ewan said. “I hadn’t won a WorldTour race to start with so I always knew it was going to be pretty tough.”
“But my team believed in me and at the end there when they commit 100% for you, you start to believe in yourself as well.
“This was probably the last stage I could go for because I’m not planning on going through the whole Tour. There was a fair bit of pressure because I knew it was my last opportunity but that made me even more determined to do it.”
Sport director Neil Stephens was thrilled by the efforts of his young charge.
“The performance was unbelievable stuff,” Stephens said. “But what is also a factor is what’s gone on the past five days.”
“We have had a great leader of the race and 90% of the thought had gone into Esteban Chaves so Caleb had to take a step back as plan B.
“He is 21 years of age. He dealt with that like a champion and then when he had is one chance, he delivered.”
Unfortunately, the pace in the final saw Colombian Chaves relinquish the red leader’s jersey by just one second to Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
With a long way still to go before Madrid and some favourable stages to come, Stephens said Chaves is still in a very strong position.
“We talked this morning about the possibility in the next couple of days to lose the jersey,” Stephens said.
“We probably didn’t think it would happen today, but we knew we didn’t want to obsess over the jersey just to keep it for an extra day when we have more goals to achieve across the three weeks.
“It’s been great to have the jersey, we might get it back we might not, but we aren’t done yet.”
How it happened:
Stage five looked set for a strong sprinter, the relatively flat stage finishing with a technical finale containing a number of roundabouts in the final five kilometres and an uphill drag to the line.
As such, few were willing to put themselves at the front of the race and as a result the breakaway began with one solo rider, Tsgabu Grmay of Lampre-Merida.
Eventually, two others joined him and the group began to ride out to an advantage. As they reached seven minutes, the sprint teams came to the fore – particularly Giant-Alpecin and Cofidis.
The break splinted in the final 20km and Iljo Keisse (Etixx-Quickstep) was the final survivor to be swept up with nine kilometres to go.
As the technical final section began, ORICA-GreenEDGE came to the fore led by Hayman. After a long turn, Keukeleire took over before Docker delivered Ewan with absolute perfection in order to contest and win the uphill sprint.
This article was originally posted on greenedgecycling.com.