As one of only two Australians to win the Tour de France's green jersey, Robbie McEwen is well aware of the pressures that come with top-level sprinting. So, while many who watched Caleb Ewan win four stages at the Tour Down Under, McEwen has also urged for patience in the young rider's career.
Ewan dominated the sprints at this year's race, winning all four flat stages and wearing the leader's jersey until the end of stage 2. He has now won six stages in the race in just the last two editions, and many are expecting him to transfer a similar success rate when he races in Europe. At just 22 his team have looked to develop Ewan's talent at manageable rate, and he is down to repeat the Giro d'Italia this year rather than head to the Tour de France.
"I think personally that he's stepped it from last year," McEwan told Cyclingnews watching Ewan win the final stage in the centre of Adelaide.
"He won two stages last year and dominated but even with Peter Sagan here, although not at 100 per cent, Caleb hasn't been intimidated or forced into mistakes. He's been by head and shoulders the best sprinter here."
McEwen has been impressed, not just with Ewan's pure speed but the variety of ways he won during the Tour Down Under.
"He's done it in a number of ways. He's used his own lead out train; he's come off other trains; he come from the back; from the middle and he's been patient. He's made really good decisions even when he's been boxed in."
Last year, after Ewan won two stages it was expected that he would head to Europe and continue his run of form. Despite a few placings at the Giro it took him until August to win again. McEwen expects the Orica Scott rider will return the Giro d'Italia in May, where he will showcase his improvements over the last twelve months.
"The question, going on from here is whether he can do it against a 100 per cent Sagan, along with Kittel, Cavendish and Greipel all at the same time. I don't think he's going to get a chance to do that at the Tour de France but I'm pretty sure he'll ride the Giro. I expect him to not just win one stage there, but a few."
In regards to the hype that surrounds a talented but still relatively raw sprinter, McEwen pointed out that a certain level of hype was understandable but that Ewan needed further time to grow.
"It's okay to get excited for what he's doing, what he's already done and the potential that he's got but just remember he's only 22. He's going to get better, stronger and more consistent. As a sprinter you don't really get faster but you can add that consistency almost on command, like he has done this week. It's another thing doing it bigger races, in Europe, where there are bigger mountains. He's on the right track but still had time to develop where he needs to."
At 22 McEwen had not yet joined the professional ranks and his first Tour de France stage – he would go on to win a dozen – didn't come until his third start in the race.
"Remember though he's 22. I hadn't even turned pro until I was 23. It's a different era and I was coming in and getting my head kicked in. I rode my first Tour in 1997 but didn't win my first stage until 1999."
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