Australian cycling star Caleb Ewan’s long-held dream of winning the Milan-Sanremo classic has been scuppered by illness.
Ewan has been forced to withdraw from the first of the season’s ‘Monument’ one-day races in Italy on Saturday with a stomach bug.
The Sydneysider, who’s twice finished runner-up in ‘La Classicissima’, had been in searing early-season sprinting form and was again among the big favourites to land the prize he so covets.
The Lotto Soudal rider admitted he was “very disappointed” about having to pull out after beginning the 2022 circuit with three impressive stage wins.
The 27-year-old, who’d been runner-up at Milan-Sanremo in both 2018 and last year, had been fancied by many to become the first Australian winner of the race since Simon Gerrans 10 years ago.
“The medical staff and Caleb Ewan waited until the final moment to take this difficult decision, but in the end it (pulling out) was the only option,” his Belgian team Lotto Soudal said in a statement on Friday.
“I am very disappointed that I am not able to take the start of my main goal of the spring season,” Ewan said in the statement.
“I was in good form and ready for a hard race, but like many other riders at the moment, I faced a stomach flu at the worst time.
“Together with the team we had to decide that it is better to now focus on different goals.”
Ewan is among a growing list of big names who’ve withdrawn from the race, including defending champion Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and the 2019 champion Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
Australia’s main Milan-Sanremo hopes may well now lie in the hands of Team BikeExchange-Jayco’s Michael Matthews, another man who reckons he has unfinished business with the race where he’s come home in the top-10 four times, including two podium finishes.
The 31-year-old will lead a team featuring three of his Australian colleagues, Luke Durbridge, Cameron Meyer and Alex Edmondson.
“If I think about the finish line on Via Roma in Sanremo, a lot of memories over the years come to my mind, a few high and a lot of lows. It’s been a rollercoaster race for me,” said Matthews.
“It’s a race that’s always attracted me since I started cycling and now I have a new opportunity to get on the top step, and I will do my best to be on the that podium for the third time.
“I struggled a little bit through Tirreno-Adriatico after my crash in Strade Bianche, but to be honest the shape is much better than I thought, and I think I’ll be ready for Saturday.”
All eyes, though, will be on double Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar, who’ll be seeking to maintain his spectacular run which has featured wins at the UAE tour, Strade Bianche and Tirreno Adriatico.