Caleb Ewan is the man to beat in Tour Down Under sprints as big names opt out

21-year-old Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan is the favourite for the Tour Down Under's sprint stages as Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and André Greipel start their season elsewhere

Caleb Ewan wins the 2016 Australian Criterium Championship
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

Burgeoning fast-man Caleb Ewan has not underestimated his competition at the Tour Down Under despite the noted absence of ‘big name’ internationals at this year’s race.

Ewan fronted the media at a pre-race press conference on Saturday as the sprinter to beat with heavyweights André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) opting to start their respective seasons later abroad.

“We don’t have the top three or four sprinters in the world here but there are still guys that are really quick so it’s not going to be easy to win a stage,” said Ewan.

The 21-year-old identified Wouter Wippert (Cannondale) and Steele von Hoff, who is racing with the UniSA Australia composite outfit instead of his trade One Pro Cycling team, as chief rivals, pointing to their respective stage victories at last year’s event.

>>> Tour Down Under 2016 preview (video)

Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) was prominent at a domestic criterium series in Victoria, Australia earlier this month and will have a chance to make his first impression in Adelaide at the prelude People’s Choice Classic criterium, which Kittel won last season, on Sunday. He claimed 11 victories, including a stage of the Vuelta a Espana, as a rookie pro in 2015.

“I think there’s a few stages that should suit me but the main goal for the team will be going for GC so I’ll need to fit my plans around that,” Ewan said.

>>> Tour Down Under live TV guide

“I think if there’s a stage I’m feeling good for and the team want to support me they will.”

Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur on Saturday fielded questions about the start list for this year’s event, which includes a bevy of Australian talent but less international headline acts.

The race has previously hosted Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde, Mark Cavendish, Philippe Gilbert and the now disgraced Lance Armstrong.

“As organisers we’re extremely happy with the start list,” Turtur said.

Watch: Tour Down Under 2016 preview (video)

“If any organiser throughout the world had our start list they’d be pretty happy. The decision of riders and teams to send riders wherever they go is their decision, all we can do is put on a quality race and make the conditions as best we can.”

>>> Tour Down Under 2016: Latest news, reports, previews and more

Armstrong was paid to make appearances from 2009-2011 when he competed, however, Turtur intimated such fees were not necessary to the ongoing success of the event.

“We’re a WorldTour race so we operate under that umbrella,” he continued when asked about offering additional incentive to attract top international talent. “Other events are a bit free in the market that allow them to do certain deals. Until that changes I guess things will remain.”

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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.