Aus­tral ian sprinter Caleb Ewan has been des­per­ate to star t the Tour since he burst onto the pro scene in 2015. Pro­cy­cling speaks to the young prodigy about bring­ing his style to the big stage


Aus­tralian Caleb Ewan on his sprint­ing style and mak­ing his long-awaited Tour de­but

Some of us - most of us - are al­most cer­tainly never go­ing to ride the Tour de France. But if ever there was a rider who seemed des­tined to, it’s Mitchel­ton-Scott’s Caleb Ewan. And if any­one had any doubt at all as to whether the 23-year-old sprinter is ready, they only had to watch him fin­ish two lengths clear of the bunch at Mi­lan-San Remo in March.

True, he was ‘only’ sprint­ing for sec­ond place, af­ter Vin­cenzo Nibali had jumped clear on the Pog­gio and soloed to a well-taken vic­tory. But those Ewan beat read like a who’s who of the world’s top sprint­ers. They were all there: Ar­naud Dé­mare, Alexan­der Kristoff, Peter Sa­gan, Michael Matthews, Elia Vi­viani, Mar­cel Kit­tel - all names he’s likely to come up against when he takes on his first Tour this sum­mer. Throw a cou­ple more names into the mix - An­dré Greipel and Mark Cavendish (both of whom crashed out of San Remo that day) - and you have to con­sider Ewan ca­pa­ble of reg­u­larly be­ing there or there­abouts on the stages when the sprint­ers are un­leashed.

Can you even gauge when you’re ready for your first Tour? Stage wins at other grand tours? Check. The re­spect and con­fi­dence of your col­leagues and team-mates? Check. The de­ci­sion by team man­age­ment to send you? Well, yes - check. It’s been very much the lat­ter from whom Ewan’s been wait­ing for the green light. Now, it’s lit, and so is Caleb Ewan.

“Ever since I turned pro, it’s been one of my big­gest goals: to make the Tour de France team,” Ewan tells Pro­cy­cling. Fearless dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion at the prospect of com­pet­ing at the world’s big­gest bike race, yet not in a cocky way, if Ewan can take that con­fi­dence to the start line at Noir­moutier -en-Île on July 7, he’s al­ready half­way there.

“It does feel as though I’ve been wait­ing a long time to go,” the Aus­tralian con­tin­ues. “But the more I think about it, the more

I’ve al­ways been pretty am­bi­tious. I just wanted to go to the big­gest races straight away. The team’s had to slow me down a bit

I re­alise that it hasn’t re­ally been that long. I am re­ally ex­cited to get there and to get started. I’ve al­ways been pretty am­bi­tious; I just wanted to go to the big­gest races straight away. I guess the team’s | had to slow me down a bit, and help me progress on more of a con­stant, rather than send­ing me straight to the big­gest races in the world. But I think it’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to be am­bi­tious as op­posed to the other way around.”

You could ar­gue that any­one who can win a stage of a grand tour in their first full year as a pro­fes­sional - as Ewan did at the 2015 Vuelta a Es­paña, at the ten­der age of 21 - might be ready to do the same at the Tour. He went on to win a stage at last year’s Giro d’Italia, too. It’s al­most in­con­ceiv­able that Ewan is still only 23. He’ll turn 24 four days into the Tour, on stage 5 be­tween Lori­ent and Quim­per: a lumpy 204.5km hilly stage. It’s prob­a­bly a stage be­yond him - the hilly Clas­sics spe­cial­ists should be to the fore in this far-west fin­ish – but no doubt the young Syd­ney-sider will hope he’ll have given him­self an early birth­day present with a win on one of the three sprinter stages that open the race on stages 1, 2 and 4. Noth­ing, ap­pears to faze him. He is mild-man­nered, well-spo­ken and po­lite off the bike. On the bike Ewan is… well, he’s the same, most of the time.

“I prob­a­bly am a bit dif­fer­ent from the ‘real me’ in the last few kilo­me­tres,” Ewan laughs. “I guess you have to have some kind of ag­gres­sion in you as a sprinter. Ev­ery­one’s will­ing to push you out of the way, so if you don’t push back, you get walked over. You have to change. I think a lot of the sprint­ers now are quite well­man­nered off the bike, but maybe in the past a lot of sprint­ers had the same per­son­al­i­ties off the bike as on it. They might have come across as a bit ar­ro­gant.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m ac­tu­ally an ag­gres­sive rider, ever, re­ally,” he says. “But if in the last few kilo­me­tres of a race it feels as though you need to get your el­bows out, then you do. You can prob­a­bly see bet­ter with the on-board cam­era footage these days just how much push­ing and shov­ing goes on. But it’s just part of sprint­ing, and we all have to do it.”

Off the bike, do Ewan and his fel­low sprint­ers get along? “Dur­ing the race you can’t re­ally be that friendly with any­one be­cause you’re all there to win, but af­ter the race all the sprint­ers get along pretty well, yes.”

That was ev­i­dent at the pre-race press con­fer­ence at Jan­uary’s Tour Down Un­der when Lotto-Soudal’s An­dré Greipel took the mi­cro­phone.“My im­pres­sion is that I have no slip­stream be­hind him - and that makes it dif­fi­cult,” a smil­ing Greipel said, when asked what he thought about Ewan.

Ewan took it in the good-na­tured way that it was in­tended.

“And I re­mem­ber last year at the Tour of Abu Dhabi, when one day Mark Cavendish was on me when I started my sprint, and af­ter the stage he said, ‘Now I know how ev­ery­one else feels when they’re sprint­ing on [be­hind] me!’” Ewan laughs. “So, yeah, I’d pre­fer it if no one can get a draft off me. It’s a gain for me!”

While Si­mon Yates was tar­get­ing the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion at the Giro d’Italia for Mitchel­tonS­cott in May, twin brother Adam Yates is al­most cer­tain to tar­get a good over­all fin­ish at the Tour, hav­ing fin­ished fourth at the 2016 race and ninth at last year’s Giro.Yet Ewan points out that Mitchel­ton-Scott are in a bet­ter po­si­tion than a lot of other teams when it comes to mount­ing mul­ti­ple goals.

“It’s taken time, I guess, for the team to be in a po­si­tion to back me fully,” ad­mits Ewan. “I think when the whole team’s around you, there’s prob­a­bly more pres­sure, but it cer­tainly makes things eas­ier hav­ing, say, six guys help­ing you as op­posed to about three. The team’s prob­a­bly ex­pect­ing more from me than ever be­fore, so it’s been good to work with guys this sea­son who should be go­ing to the Tour, as we can work to­gether to de­velop a sprint train ahead of July.

“I think we’re lucky that we’ve got guys like Mat­teo Trentin and Daryl Im­pey who can help in the lead-outs for the sprints, but they they can also help on the climbs,” he says. “Maybe not quite as much in the high moun­tains, but they can get over some pretty solid climbs, so we’ve got guys that can do both roles. Whereas if you’ve got guys who are more one-di­men­sional, you have to go to races with a whole team built around ei­ther a sprinter or a climber. I think we’ve got a good bal­ance.”

While Mitchel­ton-Scott’s Tour squad hadn’t yet been picked as we went to press, Im­pey - the valu­able all-rounder who won the Tour Down Un­der in Jan­uary - is surely a shoo-in for the race. Trentin, mean­while, crashed out of Paris-Roubaix, re­sult­ing in a com­pres­sion frac­ture of his tho­racic spine, and his start looks less cer­tain.

We started off quite high - prob­a­bly even higher than I’d nat­u­rally sprint. And then we grad­u­ally moved down to this ex­treme low po­si­tion

Phys­i­cally - and aero­dy­nam­i­cally, of which more in a mo­ment - Ewan is ready. He’s pre­pared men­tally, too: the re­sult of a steady pro­gres­sion through the Cy­cling Aus­tralia ‘sys­tem’.

“I started cy­cling at 10 years old, and won the un­der-17s road race cham­pi­onships when I was 15 or 16,” Ewan ex­plains. “Pretty much from then, I started to do short stints of rac­ing in Europe, and ev­ery­thing pro­gressed from there. By the time I turned pro­fes­sional, I’d al­ready raced a lot in Europe, so it wasn’t like I was liv­ing at home and then all of sud­den I was off to Europe by my­self.”

He turned pro­fes­sional with Ori­caGreenEdge (now Mitchel­ton-Scott) to­wards the end of the 2014 sea­son, and the team soon had Ewan in the wind tun­nel in a bid to make him even faster. It was here that he’d de­velop his trade­mark head­down sprint­ing style: not too dis­sim­i­lar to that of Cavendish, al­though ar­guably more ex­treme. “We just started try­ing dif­fer­ent po­si­tions,” says Ewan. “We started off quite high - prob­a­bly even higher than I’d nat­u­rally sprint. And then we grad­u­ally moved down to this ex­treme, low-down po­si­tion, which is kind of like what I’m do­ing now. I can’t re­mem­ber the fig­ures as to how much of a dif­fer­ence it makes, but it’s pretty sub­stan­tial at high speed. My coach at the time sug­gested I tried to do some sprints in that po­si­tion out on the road, to see if I could do it, as it was go­ing to be tough to adopt it with­out los­ing power.

“Today, I prob­a­bly start my sprint in quite a high - or nor­mal - po­si­tion, but, as my power fades, I kind of drift down into the lower po­si­tion. The whole idea of that is that I’m upright to get up to speed, put­ting out the most power, as you can’t re­ally cre­ate that much power in a lower po­si­tion. So as my power’s go­ing down, my body’s also go­ing down into a more aero­dy­namic po­si­tion to make up for it.”

The com­par­isons to Cavendish come at a time when aero­dy­nam­ics in sprint­ing are taken ex­tremely se­ri­ously. When Cavendish won the World Cham­pi­onships in Copen­hagen, Den­mark, in 2011, it was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for sprint­ing aero­dy­nam­ics. “Yeah, I think that when he won the Worlds in a full skin­suit and wear­ing an aero hel­met, it was the turn­ing point,” agrees Ewan. “I find it so strange that no one had re­ally thought about the aero­dy­nam­ics of sprint­ing be­fore that. Ev­ery­one was super into be­ing aero­dy­namic for time tri­als, but when it came to sprint­ing no one re­ally was,” he says. Watch Ewan closely and you’ll see he tends to get into an aero posi­iton in the mid­dle of a stage or one­day race too. “Ev­ery lit­tle bit of en­ergy you can save dur­ing the race helps when it comes to the sprint,” Ewan says. “Dur­ing a 300km race such as Mi­lan-San Remo, if you’re sav­ing lit­tle bits of en­ergy like that all the time, it can make a big dif­fer­ence by the end. Cav does it too. You al­ways see him hid­ing from the wind, and it’s some­thing I’ve had to get used to do­ing as well. Any en­ergy you can save be­fore the sprint can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning and los­ing.”

You get the sense that Cavendish is some­what of a role model, which makes per­fect sense: smaller in stature than many sprint­ers, ca­pa­ble of fold­ing him­self down into an aero sprint­ing po­si­tion, tac­ti­cally as­tute, fast… And, like Cavendish, Ewan has all the at­tributes re­quired to be­come the fastest man on two wheels. He also pos­sesses the Holy Grail that is the abil­ity to get over climbs with the best, such as San Remo’s Pog­gio. Cavendish is of course a past win­ner of Mi­lan-San Remo, which the 2018 edi­tion proved was within Ewan’s grasp - if not in 2019, then soon af­ter.

For now, Ewan has his sights set on set­ting alight the sprints at this year’s Tour. If he can de­liver there, at his first at­tempt, then he may prove him­self to be Cavendish’s sprint­ing heir.

Watch this (s)pace.

Ewan grits his teeth and sprints to a de­but stage win at the Giro

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