For fans of Australian cycling, the name Caleb Ewan has had tongues wagging for several years with the prodigious young talent racking up wins in juniors and under-23’s as well as putting in impressive rides such as his fourth place at last year's U23 road race world championships.
Ewan made his WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under last month and immediately impressed with third place in the opening People's Choice Classic criterium behind Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). While that was his best performance of the race, Ewan is wiser and stronger for the experience and learnt invaluable lessons from racing against two of the world’s fastest sprinters.
Ewan is his own harshest critic and while most 19-year-old's would be happy racing against some of the WorldTour's best riders, he explained to Cyclingnews that a stage win was his goal.
"I also expected it to be hard, but I hoped that I'd be up there in more stages but they ended up being a bit too hard. If I was in really good form, I might have been able to get over a few of the climbs but I just wasn't up for it at the time. It was a hard tour compared to what it used to be, with the crash on the second stage as well, that put me out a bit as well."
Having enjoyed a small break from racing, Ewan has had time to reflect on his summer of racing and his achievements.
"The main thing was for it to be a good learning experience and that's exactly what it was. A few days there were crosswinds and I was caught in bad position coming into the climbs and now I know that you have to be there during the whole race.
"Once you let yourself relax a bit, you find yourself at the back and it can be all over
Adjusting to the pace of professional racing, Ewan also had to adapt to a peloton who weren't used to seeing him win with ease. "I'm used to, at the moment, getting a lot of respect in the U23's, around the Mitchelton Bay Cycle Classic I get a fair bit of respect, but it's a whole different level with guys who are really good so I didn't get as much respect as I would have liked but it's always going happen."
Ewan signed a contract with Orica-GreenEdge in October last year that allowed him to spend another season at the U23 level and then take his place on the team's roster from August as a stagiaire, allowing him to target several races first.
"I think the main part will be in April, there are lot of classics and I want to go back to Picardie and win that again. I'm doing Flanders this year and U23 Liège Bastogne Liège so they’re three races that I really want to target along with a lot of one-day Italian races.
"I'm trying to make the Commonwealth Games team. After worlds, I'll do Beijing if all is going well."
While Ewan is known for his sprinting prowess, the Ardennes is where future success may lay. "I think that there the kind of races that I'll end up being good at with the short steep climbs. Once the climbs start going over four or five kilometres I'm no good.
"I think those kinds of races will suite me but then again, it's hard to tell as I was hoping to get over that kind of climb at Tour Down Under and I didn't. Everyone goes to their specific discipline and I hope that I don't just turn into a pure flat sprinter and I can get over a few of the climbs."
Second season with Jayco-AIS
Young Australians are blessed to have Cycling Australia [CA] and the Australian Institute of Sport [AIS] who provided a pathway to racing in Europe via their nine-man U23 squad based in northern Italy. The alumni of the program includes 17 riders currently plying their trade in the WorldTour such as Simon Gerrans, Rohan Dennis, Cameron Meyer, Jack Bobridge, Luke Durbridge and Simon Clarke.
"I think it will be really good. There are three really strong guys coming into the team and three really strong guys left the team last year [They were Damien Howson, Adam Phelan and Mitch Mulhern]. The main part of the team stayed on for this year and they're going to be another year stronger and experienced so I think we'll be stronger this year, but it's hard to tell as we haven't really raced it. It's exciting."
The team allows young riders the opportunity to experience life racing in Europe which Ewan is now accustomed to and as he explained, a catalyst for his achievements.
"I'm pretty used to it now, it's going to be my fourth year. I went as a first year U19 and a second year as well and then last year with the U23 program so I've really eased my way into it. Last year I found it really good and I think that's the reason why I went so well last year.
"It wasn't a shock to me, I knew what to expect when I got over there as I've been doing it the past few years. This year again, I'll be more prepared and know what to expect from the U23 racing and the way we live over there. I'm getting used to it, it's pretty normal."
A new initiative by CA for the Jayco-AIS team is the ‘Big Brother' program which pairs U23 riders with experienced Australian professional riders accustomed to living and racing in Europe. Ewan will have one of Australia's finest in Simon Gerrans as a mentor in 2014.
"It's great. He's a really professional guy and I reckon he's done it the hard way. He didn't go pro straight out of U23's and he had to really work hard to get where he's at now and it shows in his results. He's won some really big races and I think he's a perfect guy to learn off."
Having spent several years racing in Europe, Ewan is more than happy to help out his teammates when needed with advice but is confident the new members of team are ready to go.
"Rob Power and Harry Carpenter are guys that will really adapt quite easily. Rob won a few races last year in the U19 and I think they're really strong guys. They might have a little bit of learning to do but after a few races they'll be fine."
Brad McGee also helps out Ewan with mentoring and coaching and has been a key cog in the young rider's success. "He's been a really big help, not just coaching, just as a mentor. He's a guy that I can always go to if I have problems or I need advice on anything.
"He's so switched on and he just knows about everything. He just a perfect guy for me to have if I need any advice, I can always go to him."
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