A long wait, but finally a Tour win for sprint prodigy Ewan

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The pack rides during the eleventh stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 167 kilometers (103,77 miles) with start in Albi and finish in Toulouse, France, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

TOULOUSE, France (AP) — A bit more than a year ago, Caleb Ewan was devastated to be left out of the Tour de France.

The Australian sprinter had to watch cycling’s biggest race on TV after finding out at the last minute that his Mitchelton-Scott team was placing all its bets on Adam Yates in the fight for the yellow jersey, and would leave Ewan at home.

A year later, Ewan earned his first Tour victory by edging a close sprint on Stage 11 in Toulouse on Wednesday.

“I was ready for the Tour three of four years ago, I always wanted to go straight to the top races,” said Ewan, whose daughter was born just before the race started. “I’ve been held back, I finally got my chance.”

Ewan switched teams to Lotto-Soudal this season to replace veteran German sprinter Andre Greipel, and the ambitious youngster was, at last, promoted to a team leader role this summer in France.

But the pressure was big on Ewan, a winner of 36 professional races — including stages at the Spanish Vuelta and Giro d’Italia.

After coming close in previous stages with three third-place finishes and a runner-up spot, he finally delivered by edging one of the peloton’s fastest men. The 25-year-old Australian beat fellow sprinter Dylan Groenewegen by a tire’s width and was awarded the victory after photo finish. Elia Viviani placed third ahead of three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

Ewan perfectly timed his effort after Groenewegen launched his effort on the left side of the road. Ewan took the wheel of his Dutch rival and pipped him to the line.

“It was super hectic,” said Ewan, who has now completed wins at all three Grands Tours. “I ended up in Groenewegen’s wheel coming out of that corner. It’s a hard thing being with Dylan and I knew it was not going to be easy to beat him. I felt I should let him get a bit of a gap so I could sprint in his slipstream, and I could pass him quite quick. I’m happy that this time I was a few centimeters ahead of him.”

The win also made up for having to leave Australia just after the birth of his daughter Lily. He thanked his wife for letting him go and compete in France in such circumstances.

“She let me come here and leave my young baby in hospital,” Ewan said. “It’s the hardest thing I had to do, to come here to race and leave my daughter in hospital.”

With the race heading into the Pyrenees over the next four stages, the main favorites did not take any risks Wednesday and there were no significant changes in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe kept the yellow jersey, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas. Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.

“I’ve prepared myself for attacks to take place, whether from the favorites or other riders who want to gain time,” Alaphilippe said.

The coming days could be crucial in determining the next Tour champion. Following Thursday’s stage and its two first-category climbs, Thomas — an excellent time-trial specialist — will have a chance to gain time on his rivals in the only individual race against the clock this year. Then it will be time for the grueling ascent of the Tourmalet —the first of three finishes over 2,000 meters this year — and a final Pyrenean stage totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.

“There are five big days to come, but we are up for it,” Thomas said. “Obviously, we’d love to be closer to Alaphilippe, but we are ahead the traditional GC (general classification) guys. It’s hard to see how Alaphilippe will go, but Egan and I are in quite a good place. By the second rest day we will know more about who are our rivals.”

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