The Giro d’Italia is the next step of development for Caleb Ewan’s career. But when the Australian sprinter makes his debut in the world’s second biggest of the three grand tours there is no chance of him taking a softly, softly approach.
Winning a stage will be very much on 21-year-old Ewan’s ‘to-do’ list, said Orica-GreenEdge head sports director Matt White.
“It is part of his development, but at the same time, part of his development is targeting winning,” White told Cyclingnews as Friday’s Giro start in Apeldoorn drew near. “We are going into the Giro with the target of winning a stage and at the same time experiencing a very tough bike race.”
Although, how far Ewan can go in the Giro is not something White has targeted, other than to say: “We will push the limits as hard as we can. How far that takes him, who knows?”
Orica-GreenEdge are also racing the 3,463km Giro with a view to helping Colombian Esteban Chaves compete for the overall classification, but White says the Australian team has selected a balanced line-up to serve Ewan’s interests as well.
“We have identified stages in the first 12 days that will be good for Caleb. We have riders to support him,” said White.
Ewan will get his first opportunity to go for a win this weekend in stages 2 and 3 in the Netherlands. Friday’s first stage is a 9.8km time trial in Apeldoorn, but the sprinters should come to the fore in Saturday’s 190km second stage from Arnhem to Nijmegen and again in Sunday’s 190km third stage from Nijmegen to Arnhem, after which the Giro will transfer to Italy on Monday to resume on Tuesday.
Making Ewan battle hardened
White believes Ewan is well prepared for the Giro, with Ewan having raced the three-day Tour de Yorkshire that finished on Sunday, especially with the hills in Yorkshire in his legs. “That is why we chose [to race in] Yorkshire,” White said.
White anticipates the greatest challenge for Ewan in the Giro as apart to what he faced in his grand tour debut last year in the Vuelta a Espana where he won a stage, will be handling the accumulative kilometres of the Giro’s longer stages.
“Where he will be going into unchartered territory is backing up day in, day out,” White said of Ewan’s Giro start. “He has proved over shorter kilometres and shorter races that he can do it, but the Giro is obviously another step up. He has a big first week of the Giro kilometre wise and [with] transfers. It will be good for him and an eye opener for him.”
Asked to precise what differences Ewan can expect in a Giro sprint as against what he faced in the Vuelta, White said: “The first days in Holland are very much going to be weather dependent on how stages are raced. If it’s a windy, rainy, feral day in Holland it’s going to make for very interesting racing.
“If it is 17 or 18 degrees and no wind, it will be pretty relaxed racing," White said. "That will affect how we race the first stages up north. The big challenge that Caleb will find when we get back to mainland Italy will be the length of the stages. There are not too many purely flat bunch sprints while he is going to be around at the Giro. To be backing up doing 200km-plus, 230km stages … there is a 240 there … that is going to be a real challenge for him.”
While Orica-GreenEdge are keen to continue stretching Ewan, the team does not want him to lose his winning edge.
“Definitely …,” White said. “Every race we send him to this year he is going to have a chance to win. That is the plan.”
Hence, there was more to sending Ewan to the Tour de Yorkshire than to win, even though he finished empty handed with a second place on the first stage that was the most suited for him of three. He raced stage 2 but did not finish stage 3.
“That is part of the experience of getting ready for the Giro,” White said. “At the Giro he is going to spend a lot of time in the ‘grupetto’, a lot of time chasing. But there are also going to be periods there where I think he is going to be very competitive up against the likes of Kittel and Greipel.
“People forget he is 21 years old. He is tracking really well and Yorkshire-Giro is another phase of his development.”
While Ewan has sprinted against most of the best, at the Giro he faces a new depth of sprinter and their experienced trains.
Included among the main sprinters are the likes of Germans Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Italians Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky).
“It is going to be very interesting to see how he goes up against the big boys. It’s going to be exciting,” White said.
Viviani, who won the second stage in last year’s Giro and beat Kittel to win the stage 2 of the Three Days of De Panne this year, rates Ewan as a contender for a stage win in week one.
“He is really fast. I have seen all the sprints he has won in the first part of the season,” Viviani said on Wednesday, citing in particular Ewan’s second place in stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico behind Colombian flyer Fernando Gaviria who is not at the Giro. “I think in the first week he can do a really good sprint, and maybe he can win. In Tirreno he did a good sprint behind Gaviria. For the first week he is a quite dangerous sprinter.”
No Tour de France this year, but when?
Ewan’s future will lead one day to the Tour de France, but White is uncertain when that debut will be. What is certain is that it will not be this year. “We are thinking long term with him as well,” White said. “We want to put a really solid year into him this year and then he will benefit from that next year.
“But he still has the ability – even at 21 and as stretched as he will be … to be a winner, and when he gets opportunity he has been very effective at being competitive and winning. He certainly wont be going to the Tour this year, but there is one thing I have learned over the last couple of years … I don’t set any limits on the younger guys.”
Pressed on the possibility of Ewan making a Tour start next year then, White said the race route will play a major part too.
“For this year’s Tour for example … it’s not a good Tour de France for the pure sprinter,” White said. “There are not many pure flat stages. Who knows, next year they may go back to having a more traditional first week.”
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Rupert Guinness first wrote on cycling at the 1984 Victorian road titles in Australia from the finish line on a blustery and cold hilltop with a few dozen supporters. But since 1987, he has covered 26 Tours de France, as well as numerous editions of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana, classics, world track and road titles and other races around the world, plus four Olympic Games (1992, 2000, 2008, 2012). He lived in Belgium and France from 1987 to 1995 writing for Winning Magazine and VeloNews, but now lives in Sydney as a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) and contributor to Cyclingnews and select publications.
An author of 13 books, most of them on cycling, he can be seen in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying a drop of French rosé between competing in Ironman triathlons.
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