Caleb Ewan made his WorldTour debut at the 2014 Tour Down Under, riding for the wildcard UniSA-Australia team. The then 19-year-old finished third, behind Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel in the pre-race criterium but struggled through the race finishing with the front group on just one occasion. The 21-year-old arrives in Adelaide for his second crack at the race as one the favourites for sprint wins, having won four of the five races he's finished this season to add to his 11 professional wins of his debut neo-pro season with Orica-GreenEdge.
"When I did the Tour Down Under a couple of years ago, I hadn't done any WorldTour racing and I hadn't raced with professionals really at all so I was pretty inexperienced back then," Ewan said at the pre-race press conference. "Obviously as well, in a couple of years you mature and get stronger and I think that will help. Now I have another season under my belt riding for GreenEdge so hopefully I'll be a bit more used to it now.
"Last time I did it, I really struggled. I might have finished one of the stages in the bunch which was the last one around the crit circuit. I struggled back then so hopefully I won't struggle as much this year."
Orica-GreenEdge start the race with the dual ambition of winning stages with Ewan and claiming a fourth overall title for Simon Gerrans. Acknowledging the balance the team will attempt to find when racing gets underway on Tuesday’s 130.8km sprint friendly stage from Prospect to Lyndoch, Ewan explained he has no issue with the team’s goals.
“There are a few stages which would suit me but the main goal of the team is going for GC so I’ll need to fit my plans around that so if there is a stage where I am feeling good for and them team want to support me, they will,” Ewan said.
Along with the opening stage, stages four and six are expected to finish in a bunch sprint finish. The winners of the corresponding stages in 2015 are two riders that Ewan mentions when asked who he sees as his rivals for the race.
"Wouter Wippert and Steele von Hoff won stages in the sprints last year and they are back here again," he said."[Giacomo] Nizzolo as well, and [Matteo] Pelucchi are also quick guys. We don't have the top three or four guys in the world here but here are still guys here who are still really quick so it's not going to be easy to win a stage here.
"I am pretty happy with where my form is at the moment and we have a super strong team here as well so I am pretty confidant but also I know there are going to be guys here who are hard to beat," he added.
At the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic and Australian national criterium championships earlier this month, Ewan had the Orica-GreenEdge team riding exclusively for the purpose of delivering him to victory. With a different team lining up for the Tour Down Under, Ewan will need to freelance and fend for himself. A change he is embracing.
"The leadout's been pretty good so far in the crits but we have a bit of a different team here than what I had in the cits," he said of the Bay Cycling Classic in which he won three of the four races with Mitch Docker and Alex Edmondson leading him out.
"It was going to be hard to bring a full lead out team to have the GC ambition and sprint ambition as well so we kind of had to split the team," he said. "Most of the guys here can do a pretty good lead out, Hayman, Impey and even Gerro is probably going to need to be up there in the sprint anyway so he doesn’t miss any time. With the team we have here, and how hard the course is, I think we'll be right for leadout."