At 20 years of age and in his first season as a professional, every race is going to be a learning curve for Caleb Ewan, no matter how much expectation is placed on his young shoulders.
The hype surrounding the Orica GreenEdge sprinter has increased since the start of the year after he won three stages and the overall of the Mitchelton Bay Classic and two stages of the Herald Sun Tour. This week, though, he finds himself in Malaysia at the Tour de Langkawi and at 2.HC level.
As Andrea Guardini (Astana) powered away from him on the first two stages, it certainly seemed like he was competing in a different league.
"It’s obviously a bigger step than what I’ve been doing this year and it might take a few stages to get used to it," said Ewan. "This is more of a learning year where I try to get some wins along the way. So gaining experience is the main thing."
Aside from the raw speed of the Italian, it is clear that Ewan is very much getting to grips with how to approach things tactically in the final stages of these races.
"I’ve never really had a lead-out train," he admits, "so I need to learn to use them a bit more now."
That train, made up of Leigh Howard and Adam Blythe, looked strong on the first stage but when Guardini hijacked it before coming round him it caused a rethink.
"We had a pretty good lead out in the end. I’ve watched the video and he got the jump on me in the end and he was just too quick, so will have to think about something else to beat him.
"Ideally I don’t want him on my back wheel coming into the sprint so I prefer to come from behind and I will probably try to do that today."
That’s exactly what Ewan did on stage two, but the outcome was the same. Another rethink, and back to the lead-out: "I couldn’t beat him coming off him so I think it’s better to learn to come off the lead-out train, so I think we’ll stick to that now."
There’s every indication that this is a work in progress and that racing against the likes of Guardini and having to figure these problems out is only going to aid Ewan’s development. Age is on his side and despite the rising expectations, he feels free from pressure and happy to let the learning process run its course.
"I can only really do the best that I can. I know I’ve put in the hard work so far so if I win its great if I don’t I know I would have tried my best, so the pressure can’t really change that.
"My next races are the Tour of Catalunya and the Tour of Turkey. We didn’t really put any specific goals in place [at the start of the season]. Gaining experience is the main thing. "
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.