Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) has already enjoyed a mightily impressive neo-pro season. The recently turned 21-year-old has 11 wins to his name so far in 2015, with three victories at the Michelton Bay Classics series, two each at the Herald Sun Tour and Tour de Langkawi, and four at the Tour de Korea.
Those successes have proved that the excitement surrounding the young sprinter is well placed, but he continues to narrowly miss out on the sort of victory that would represent a defining confirmation of his much-heralded potential. While the wins, so far, have come on the smaller stages, Ewan has also started to rub shoulders with the major stars of the sprinting world, and on a few occasions he has come agonisingly close to getting the better of them.
On the first stage of the Tour de Pologne on Sunday, Ewan went toe-to-toe with Marcel Kittel and only just came off second best. In his second WorldTour race – his first was the Volta a Catalunya, which he abandoned after two stages – he was side-by-side with Kittel going into the 90-degree right-hand corner just 80 metres before the line, but came through slightly worse off and was out-kicked.
“It was a bit disappointing obviously but I got beaten by a quality sprinter and there wasn’t much I could do,” Ewan told Cyclingnews.
“That corner was so close to the finish, I knew if I had any chance of winning I had to get in there first so it was a little bit risky but yeah, we both got around unscathed. I went in there really, really fast so I probably went in there too fast and had to break going through the corner, which I would have lost a bit of speed, but I think my biggest problem there was that I was way too over-geared coming out of it.
“If I could do it again I’d be in a smaller gear but other than that there wasn’t much I could do. He was too strong in the end and came round me.”
Kittel joins Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff as figures from the top echelons of sprinting to have been made to sweat by Ewan in recent months. At the Tour of Turkey, a photo finish gave Cavendish the opening stage win, while at the Tour of Norway, in May, Ewan was second behind Kristoff on the opening two stages.
While it is frustrating to come so close, these encounters have been formative for Ewan, who is still in the early stages of his learning curve and only started working with a lead-out train at the start of the year.
“It gives me a bit of confidence I can come so close to them in my neo pro year - hopefully in a year or two I can be up there beating them,” he said.
“I haven’t beaten any of the big guys yet. I’ve gone second to Kristoff as well a few times. Hopefully soon I can beat one of them.”