As a first year professional, Caleb Ewan has plenty of eyes marking his progress that amounts to five wins this season from 19 days of racing for 2,641.9km. The 20-year-old Orica-GreenEdge rider has already won on three different continents with victory in two stages of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Australia, two stages at the Tour de Langkawi and the Spanish one-day race Vuelta a la Rioja.
But his year has also been a learning curve, as he told Cyclingnews before leaving his base in Monaco for the Tour of Turkey that starts on Sunday and where, for the first time, he will race the Etixx-QuickStep pair of Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen in the bunch gallops - not to mention a bevy of other sprint stars.
Rupert Guinness: Well done on your year so far. Orica-GreenEdge have put you on a realistic program for your first full year with them ...
Caleb Ewan: It's been pretty good. The team to start with said they had expected about five wins from me to start with, so to have that already takes a little bit of pressure off me; but obviously going into these races there will still be pressure. It's just nice to have those wins in the bag already. It is also good for the confidence. The team has put me on a good program and they are pretty open if I want to change anything. I'm looking forward to the next few races. But I am going to try and get through the season well. With the program they have structured ... it will be challenging, but its definitely within reach.
RG: Each win you've had this season will have been important in its own way, but was your win in the Vuelta a la Rioja the biggest so far?
CE: Yeah … Well, I think the [two Tour de] Langkawi [stage] wins were probably bigger, but it was good to get to Europe and get a win, especially after [the Volta a ] Catalunya went so badly. It [Vuelta a la Rioja] was a relatively small race … But we went in with a really strong team … It was probably the easiest race I have won so far this year just because of how well the team rode and how strong they were.
RG: It must have been nice to see a team work so well for you, and someone like Simon Gerrans who was his first race back from a fractured elbow?
CE: It is a little bit surreal to be on the back of a train and see a guy like 'Gerro' and [Daryl] Impey working to help you win. It was a pretty cool feeling and awesome to be able to pull it off. They were so strong and made my job so much easier.
RG: Orica-GreenEdge appears to be developing into a team that suits a variety of races and riders …
CE: Yeah, they are having a really good classics campaign at the moment [Ed - Michael Matthews third at Milan-San Remo and Amstel Gold Race, and Michael Albasini third in Fleche Wallonne]. Gerro has been unlucky with his two falls [before Tour Down Under and in Strade Bianche], but he is coming up pretty well for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It was good to see 'Bling' [Matthews] getting third in Milan-San Remo and at Amstel Gold Race.
RG: Did you watch Matthews at the Amstel Gold Race?
CE: Yeah … For him to be able to stay on Philippe Gilbert's wheel going up [the Cauberg] was really impressive. If he didn't do it Gilbert (BMC) probably would have gone away and won. It probably kind of cost him the race – on paper he was probably the fastest in that group – but he has to take the risk and follow Gilbert up the climb. If he raced it again he probably wouldn't have done anything different.
RG: You can climb and sprint like Matthews. Did you learn from the Amstel and how he raced that might help you? You could be in that situation...
CE: Yeah ... if I was 'Bling' I would have done the same thing because if he didn't follow Gilbert everybody behind probably would have stalled and Gilbert would probably have won solo again. He probably ran out of legs a little in the sprint. I am sure in the next few years – or next year - his time will come. If he can follow Gilbert up that climb now he is only going to get stronger from here. Obviously it is a race that suits him and hopefully it is a race that will suit me too. It's really nice around that area and I think those shorter steeper climbs suit me better – probably not now, but in a few years when I get a bit stronger and I think races like that could suit me.
RG: The Volta a Catalunya was your first World Tour race since the Tour Down Under in Australia last year, but it your first in Europe nonetheless. You did not finish. I understand you found the peloton's speed when climbing challenging?
CE: Yeah .. Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo basically had their Tour de France teams there. When they are doing 80 per cent up the climbs, it's like going up 100 per cent for me. When you have stronger teams there for 'GC' it is always going to be hard for me. Also I had just come from Langkawi where it had been on some days 40ºC and humid and I had only been back in Europe for six or seven days and it was 5-10 degrees and raining. You need a bit of time to acclimatise and get over jet lag and I had just set up my new apartment here [in Monaco]. If I could do it again I would probably do Catalunya or Langkawi. If I did Catalunya I would have come over a bit earlier.
RG: You spoke of settling in to Monaco. Who are some cycling neighbours?
CE: I train with 'Gerro' and fair bit, and [Mark] Renshaw (Etixx-QuickStep). Campbell Flakemore (BMC) has just moved out of Monaco to France and I train with him a lot as well. I recently went for a training ride with Richie Porte (Sky) and Chris Froome (Sky) – that was obviously pretty cool. There are really good guys on the ground here. I have been training with Michael Matthews as well ... all really professional guys with the same ambitions as me. It is a good environment to train in.
RG: You are all different types of riders on different training and racing programs. When you ride with Porte and Froome, how do you stay true to what you must do and not try and follow what they are planning on doing?
CE: Usually if they invite me for a ride and they have five hours on their program, I might start with them and do an hour or two with them and turn around and come home. It worked out well the other because I had five and a half hours, and so did they and I do a fair bit of climbing in the ride and they did a pretty hilly loop. It was probably their last ride before they went off [Froome to the Ardennes and Porte to the Giro del Trentino]. Usually, there is always someone who has a 'reco' ride the day you do a 'reco' ride, or a long ride when you do. You don't always train with the same people, but there's usually someone who has the same kind of program you do.
RG: You're now off to the Tour of Turkey where you will sprint against the likes of Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen … Your first time against Cavendish?
CE: It will be actually. I am looking forward to it. It will be great to go to a race and really see how I compare to those kinds of guys. I raced with (Marcel) Kittel and (Andre) Greipel last year at the Tour Down Under but it was different. Riding for UniSA, I didn't really have as strong a team as they do, so it was a little hard to compete. For Turkey we have a really strong team. That will help and it will be really great to be able to sprint against those more experienced sprinters and see how you compare.
RG: You won't be expecting any favours from those sprinters though ... they will have seen or heard enough about you not to underestimate your threat …
CE: I don't think you get any favours from those guys. Turkey is not the biggest race for them obviously, but when they go there they are really expected to win. Sometimes that is more pressure. A small race or big race, they go there and put a fair bit of pressure on themselves and I think they don't give anyone any favours. Some of the teams are preparing their trains for the Giro or Tour of California. It is important for them to nail it before they get to any of the bigger races.
RG: Do you have any set objective for Turkey, other than to try and win a stage?
CE: We haven't been told what our objectives are yet. I would like to get a stage win and even just be up there for the sprints and have a good crack. I haven't raced [Cavendish and Boonen] before and don't know how close I can get to them, but I'm hoping to be pretty competitive.
RG: After Turkey you are also doing the Tour of Norway where you will again race one of the in-form sprinters, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) …
CE: Yeah ... he's been going bloody well. It would be obviously a massive challenge, but that would be great to race against these guys for experience. It is probably better to race Cavendish here and Kristoff there and hopefully Greipel and Kittel at different parts of the year. Maybe if I raced all of them at the same time it would be a bit much. It would be good to race them all during the year at some stage and see how they sprint. I am sure I can learn a lot from it.
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)