Australian sprint star Caleb Ewan has suffered a dramatic and painful crash in the final meters of the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia in Hungary while battling for victory.
Ewan had almost emptied his tank of energy as he tried to make his final attack over the last 100 meters on the demanding final climb to the finish in Visegrad on Friday.
But still threatening in third place while trying to take victory and the leader’s pink jersey, he clipped the back wheel of Eritrean Biniam Girmay’s bike just ahead, which sent him crashing down hard across the road at high speed.
The Dutch favorite stage Mathieu van der Poel went on to pip Girmay for victory while Lotto-Soudal’s Ewan, with his top torn around his left shoulder, eventually rose groggily, remounted and grimaced as he needed assistance to struggle across the line in 76th place, 64 seconds behind.
It was more grim Grand Tour news for the Sydneysider, who broke his collarbone in a crash on the third stage of the Tour de France in 2021 which knocked him out of the race.
Friday’s crash, though, was thankfully not as serious, with his team reporting: “Apart from several abrasions, Caleb came away without any severe injuries and will take the start in the individual time trial tomorrow.”
But his spill seemed a cruel reward for the 27-year-old, who may not have won his 12th Grand Tour stage anyway but who’d still performed magnificently to even be in the podium picture after a 5.7km final ascent which proved far too much for all the other best sprinters.
Yet it was a finale to the 195km stage from Budapest perfectly designed for Alpecin-Fenix’s brilliant all-rounder van der Poel, who, on his Giro debut, timed his thrust perfectly to add the pink jersey to the yellow he wore early in his first Tour de France last summer.
After over four and a half hours in the saddle, Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) cashed in on Ewan’s fall to take third place.
Van der Poel, grandson of the late French cycling hero Raymond Poulidor who’s proved a master on the roads, cyclo-cross and mountain biking, said afterwards: “It’s incredible after the yellow jersey to have the pink and now we will see what the time trial brings tomorrow. “
Van der Poel may well win Saturday’s 9.2km effort against the clock in Budapest too.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old trailblazer Girmay, the first Black African rider to win a one-day classic earlier in the season at Gent Wevelgem, nearly became the first to win a Grand Tour stage too as he collected the first white jersey for best young rider.
“I’ve never done a sprint like it,” said the Eritrean. “For 250, 300 meters I am at the limit. I fully accept he was stronger than me today but I’m really happy.”
The uphill finish did create some small time gaps, with 2019 champion Richard Carapaz, Wilco Kelderman and Bauke Mollema among those to pick up four seconds on the other general classification contenders, including Aussie team BikeExchange-Jayco’s British leader Simon Yates.
2020 Giro runner-up Jai Hindley, in 28th, was also four seconds down, two places ahead of Australian compatriot Richie Porte.