Hulking German sprinter Andre Greipel spent seven years at team Lotto-Soudal (and their variously named incarnations). Wide of mouth and broad of shoulder, he was always unmistakeable. Winning, and I apologise in advance for my use of technical cycling jargon, an absolute s**t tonne of bike races.
He was Lotto’s banker.
Guaranteeing results and happy sponsors.
And so when they moved him on at the end of 2018 (at the age of thirty-six, his powers began to wane), whoever was chosen to fill those considerable Sidi’s would surely feel the pressure. A requirement for wins written into the contract.
The chosen one was, in comparison to “The Gorilla” Greipel, miniature. Tiny. A flyweight to the German’s super-middleweight frame. At five feet five and a mere sixty-odd kilos Aussie Caleb Ewan has the dimensions of a climber. A mountain goat.
Had the two met in a British seaside town in the nineteen-sixties Greipel would’ve stolen Ewan’s fish and chips, kissed his girlfriend, and kicked sand in his face.
Today, on stage eight, the seaside town was Italian (Pesaro) and Greipel and his team (Arkea Samsic) were elsewhere; the Pro Continental (aka second division) team having not been invited. The stage was hilly, but looked like one for the sprinters-who-can-climb. Ewan was under pressure to deliver.
We knew that because he hasn’t won a stage yet in this first week. This fact was compounded by today’s breakaway being chased down largely by Ewan’s teammates, particularly Thomas De Gendt, who rode like a man possessed.
Possessed by the knowledge that his team’s sprinter would win and, y’know, buy him Rolex, or whatever it is sprinters do to thank their teammates these days.Embed from Getty Images
In Pesaro, the main bunch had whittled down to about forty-odd riders. Most of the sprinters lead out men had been burned off, leaving Ackermann (with a couple of teammates) to battle Ewan and Italian champ Viviani.
The big three.
Positions duly jostled for the road swung right, a sweeping curve shaving off some speed, to give a true test of torque along a run-in of a couple of hundred metres.
So far in this race, in that department, Pascal Ackermann has been the boss. His final teammate peeled off – the last corner dictating the end of his lead-out – and forced an early sprint. Too early.
Ewan waited, timed his jump, and swooped past. Viviani scraped second, cementing his place as the nearly man of this year’s Giro.
Ewan, contractual obligation delivered, roared the primal scream of a man emerging from the shadow of a big German sprinter.
Literally, and figuratively.
Top Image: Fair use via https://twitter.com/Lotto_Soudal)