Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White is confident that exciting sprint prospect Caleb Ewan will succeed in the WorldTour this season, so much so he has put a number to his victories.
The 20-year-old finished a gutsy second to Heinrich Haussler at the elite men’s Australian national road championship yesterday in what was his senior race debut after three victories and overall title honours at the Bay Classic criterium series earlier this month.
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Ewan has been lauded as ‘the next big thing’ from Australia’s productive under-23 national cycling programme due to a decorated amateur career, which included three stage wins at the Tour de l’Avenir, popularly considered a mini Tour de France, and a finishing sprint comparable in aerodynamic style to Mark Cavendish.
“I expect him to win races this year, definitely,” White told Cycling Weekly in Buninyong, Victoria.
“He will always have guys around him. Adam Blythe and Leigh [Howard] will be there for the first part of the year and then Mitch [Docker] will be doing a lot with him in the middle and second part of the season. Five UCI wins is the goal.”
Ewan got a taste of WorldTour competition as a stagiaire at Orica-GreenEdge last year where his best result was a second place to fastman Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) at the opening stage of the Tour of Beijing.
He demonstrated not only his sprint prowess but a strong climbing ability at the national titles yesterday with a move on the feature Mt Buninyong climb in the last lap of the circuit race.
“I thought I’ve shown this before but obviously not,” Ewan said of his versatility in a post-race media scrum. “I do climb quite well on circuits sometimes and today I really wanted this. When the team gave me the opportunity in the last three laps I found a bit extra and I was feeling quite good.
“It’s so great, like I said at the Bay crits, to have those guys,” he continued. “They truly believe in me. It would be hard, a neo-pro coming in and you’ve been around for a while and you’re helping him try and win. I really appreciate what the team does for me. They did it all through Bay crits and gave me a great opportunity as well today.”
Ewan is talented, articulate and already well rehearsed in being a marked competitor however it’s worth remembering how young he is and just how difficult cycling’s top-tier can be. Compatriots before him have joined the WorldTour with the same plaudits, and consequent expectation, though for whatever reason not lived up to the hyperbole.
“They’ve all had a similar two-year apprenticeship before they get to us but they’ve all had different upbringings and they’re all individuals,” White said.
“Guys mature at different ages – both physically and mentally. It’s a big step for some at 20, 21 years of age they’re going from getting looked after, whether you’ve lived at home, whether you’ve been in a team environment, to looking after yourself. I suppose that’s one reason we’ve got that base in Girona. It’s a support network around those guys with doctors, physios and directors just to ease them in. It’s not compulsory, Caleb is going to Monaco to live. That’s his choice. But he’s also a very mature young rider as well.”
White has taken measures to ensure Ewan doesn’t fall through the gaps in his first full professional year including purposefully not selecting the under-23 road world silver medalist for the opening WorldTour race of the season, the Tour Down Under, in Adelaide later this month.
Ewan will race on home soil at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Herald Sun Tour before travelling to the Tour of Langkawi where he has a crack team behind him in Blythe, Howard, Damien Howson, Sam Bewley and GC hopeful Pieter Weening.
Langkawi was where current sprint supremo Marcel Kittel in 2011 won a stage before going on to be named the most winning neo-pro with 17 victories.
“I want him winning and winning straight away,” White said. “Sprinting is a lot about confidence. I expect by the time he gets to Langkawi he will have already won a stage in the Sun Tour and I think it’s a good place for our sprint group to practice.
“The race has been shortened a little bit from 10 days to seven so there will be multiple chances on very flat sprints to work with Leigh, to work with Adam and to get some runs on the board before he even gets to Europe. Throwing him in the deep end at Down Under that certainly wouldn’t be a good move for us. At the end of the day we’ve got goals at Down Under and putting a 20-year-old as our main focus in his first race with the team, in the WorldTour, wouldn’t be responsible.”