Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) will make his highly anticipated debut at this year's Tour de France with the 23-year-old sprinter looking to complete a set of Grand Tour stage wins. The Australian, who won a stage of the Tour Down Under earlier this month, sat down with Cyclingnews on the morning of the final stage in Adelaide to talk about his Tour aspirations, how many riders he expects to support him in July, and his future.
Cyclingnews: We're about to start the final stage of the Tour Down Under but how would you assess your race overall with one stage to go?
Caleb Ewan: I'm happy with the stage win. I would have preferred more but the sprint field quality is higher here than it has been in recent years.
CN: How would you assess your performances on an individual basis?
CE: I stuffed a few up but on the first stage I hit out and Andre Greipel was just quicker, whereas the stage to Victor Harbour I waited way too long and Elia Viviani got the jump on me. That was annoying to stuff up, especially after I'd had such a good leadout. The stage around Stirling was good and that was a bit of an unknown, in terms of if I could make it to the finish or not. I think that if there was one stage that I could win, it would be that one. It was the toughest one.
CN: Did that give you a boost and prove that you'd developed as a rider because not everyone had you down as a favourite for the Stirling stage? It was a really tough profile.
CE: Over the last few years I've been getting stronger. I don't know if my form is as good as in previous years. I was sick between nationals and the start of the Tour Down Under, and even leading into nationals I was tapering. So there was a two-week period where I didn't do that much training. I think that my form probably dipped a bit before the race but other than that, I think I can take positives out of the race. This was probably the best leadout I've ever had and it's been nice having a full team around me.
CN: In terms of the Tour de France, how long have you been asking the team to take you?
CE: Since I first turned pro.
CN: Really, so since your first year you've been saying, 'I want to go to the Tour this year'.
CE: I've always said that I wanted to go. In the first few years they shut it down pretty quickly and said 'no chance' but last year I thought I was ready but hadn't won a Giro d'Italia stage at that point. Last year would have been a good year to go because there were so many sprints but I probably couldn't have done the Giro and Tour – that might have been too much. This is a good year to do my first one.
CN: Did the team say that you weren't ready in previous years or was it a case of them saying 'you need to make this step, and then this step, and then we'll consider it'?
CE: To start with they said I wasn't ready but then last year, I don't know if it was the case whether they didn't think that I was ready or they wanted to go all out for GC – which they did. Even if they did take me in 2017 I would have gone with no lead out and that would have been really frustrating.
CN: Would you have still gone? If the team had said at the last minute, 'we'll take you but there won't be any support'?
CE: For sure. It would have been frustrating but I would have still done it. The Tour is the one race that I've always wanted to do. I get excited about other races but they're not the same as the Tour.
CN: So this year, how did the conversation go? Was it different because you won your Giro stage?
CE: I don't think so. I think that the team felt that it was my fourth year as a pro and that it was time. I'm not sure when they made the decision but they told me, pretty much straight after the Tour last year, that there was a pretty good chance and then when we were in our meetings at the end of the season it was confirmed. We talked about how the year had gone and then we started to talk about what the plan would be for the coming season.
CN: How many leadout guys do you think you'll take?
CE: We'll still go with a GC guy. I think Adam Yates is going, and I'm sure that they'll take someone to help him but I honestly don't know how they're going to split it and what percentage we'll each have.
CN: Ideally I'm sure you'd like seven riders around you but really what are you expecting?
CE: I'd be pretty happy, and to have a good shot, I need to have at least four guys with me. Ideally, five, but that only leaves Adam and one rider to help him. That's if I'm thinking about myself.
CN: I guess you have some riders on the team who are versatile though?
CE: Exactly. We saw Daryl Impey was one of my last men in the leadout here and then there are guys like Matteo Trentin, who are really, really versatile. We're lucky that we have guys on the team who can do both. That's good for me, and that's good for Adam.
CN: So who will be your last leadout man at the Tour?
CE: I don't know yet. No one has really been put in that place yet. I'll be riding a lot with Luka Mezgec in the build-up, so if it's all going well then he'll get the spot. It all depends on his performances and others.
CN: What's been the key, because I know you've had a few leadout guys over the years. Roger Kluge came in last year and perhaps it didn't quite click right away, Adam Blythe was here for a year but why has it clicked with Luka?
CE: To be honest it's taken about a year and a half for it to really click with him. It doesn't just work overnight and even Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish, they took a while to start working well together. It's taken time, it's taken lots of mistakes and lots of sprints to really get the feel for how each other rides. I need to understand how he's going to ride and he needs to understand how I like to come off a leadout. It's taken a while but I think that in the second half of last year we started to really click.
CN: Were there periods when you thought maybe he's not the right leadout man, or maybe someone else was?
CE: For sure. At the start he was too much of a sprinter for my liking. He was too punchy and by the time I needed to come off him I'd already done a kick just to follow him. Once we fixed that then we started to work better together. Like I said, it took some time and some patience.
CN: And in terms of announcing yourself for the Tour, not many riders do that so early in the year…
CE: I think that's because we get to this part of the year and I'm always asked if I'm doing the Tour or not. I think that the team just wanted to get it out there. If I was going to do the Tour then the thinking was that we should just announce it.
CN: Was part of it also down to the fact that it's also a contract year for you?
CE: Most of the main guys who are going to do the Tour would have found out by now. It's usually only the domestiques who find out a little later. The team announced all the Grand Tour leaders at the same time so I don't think it was related to contracts.
CN: If you weren't doing the Tour this year, would you leave the team?
CE: That all depends on a lot of stuff, not just the Tour. Obviously, the Tour is the one race that I want to go to, so if they still couldn't fit me in then I guess I would have to consider it.
CN: Will you listen to other offers when they come, because I'm sure that they will? You're young, you're one of the most talented sprinters and there are teams that need riders like that.
CE: To be honest I'm in a really good team now and there are not that many teams that need another sprinter, especially now. I have my spot here.
CN: What's your programme leading up to the Tour?
CE: From here I'll do Abu Dhabi, Tirreno, Milan-San Remo and then I'll have a break. Then I'll come back for California and then do a race in between that and the Tour. I won't be racing a whole lot but there will be some good training blocks in there.
CN: Have you raced a lot in France, stage racing wise?
CE: Not really. Hardly ever. When I was Under 23 I did a few but I've not done Paris-Nice or the Dauphine. I don't think that makes a difference though. I'm still going to race the same guys and it's still on the road.
CN: What's the barometer look like for success at the Tour? If you were a first or second-year pro then you could probably say that you were going there to learn but you've won in the Giro, you've won in the Vuelta and you've won some big one-day races. You can't really go to the Tour and say you're there for the experience.
CE: If I went earlier in my career then I probably could have played the experience card and said there was no pressure but if the team are going to send a leadout, and put the majority of the team behind me, then I'd say that they were expecting results and I'm ready for it.
CN: Is that pressure?
CE: Yes, it is, but that's okay. It's all good.