BALLARAT, Australia (VN) — Star Australian speedster Caleb Ewan knows he lacks the speed and power of the world’s top sprinters — for now. But he is still primed to take them on with a newfound ability to feel fresh at the tail end of races.
The 22-year-old Orica – Scott rider from Bowral in New South Wales believes that freshness not only helps him physically in the sprints, but also mentally to read a finale and make decisions under duress. He attributes that development to the strength and experience from racing two full seasons as a professional.
Ewan, who defended his Australian criterium title in Ballarat, Victoria Wednesday, hopes to show what progress he has made at the WorldTour level at the Santos Tour Down Under in South Australia (January 14-22) and then in Europe, where he has targeted the marathon Milano-Sanremo as a major goal.
Ewan also plans to return to the Giro d’Italia, during which he hopes “to get a few better results” than he did in his debut in the Italian grand tour last year. Before withdrawing from the race prior to stage 13, he was seventh in stage 2, ninth in stage 5, fourth in stage 7, and second in stage 12.
“I don’t feel like I am getting any faster,” said Ewan after beating Scott Sunderland and Brenton Jones in Wednesday’s 44-kilometer national criterium race on the first day of the Australian road championships that end with Sunday’s 183.6km men’s elite road race in Buninyong.
“My max power the last few years has probably stayed the same, but … you just get through the races a lot easier.
“I am just get more mature in the way I ride and getting through the longer races a bit easier. If I can get to the end of the sprint fresher, then I can put out more power at the end of the sprint. When I first turned pro I was going into those sprints completely exhausted, I couldn’t really sprint. Now I am putting out some pretty good power at the end of some long races. Hopefully that gets better as I get older as well.”
Ewan is not daunted by taking on the likes of Germans Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, Frenchmen Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare, Slovakian Peter Sagan, and Briton Mark Cavendish, whose low and flat aerodynamic tuck is similar to Ewan’s. After all, Ewan has raced against them at varying times and will race two-time defending world champion Sagan at the Tour Down Under.
Ewan looks upon making inroads into what he has to do work on to match or better them as a “natural development” that will only come from racing them more and in bigger events.
“As the years go on, I am getting stronger and every year I am learning a lot more about how the WorldTour sprints play out,” Ewan said. “They are obviously very different to these sprints in a crit and what I was used to in under-23s.
“Hopefully I can top my last few years this year.”
Asked if the issue of power is further developing it or better utilizing what he has, Ewan said: “Probably not so much pure max power in the sprint, but more getting to the sprint fresh. It’s pretty much who can get to the end of the race freshest. That comes with age as well. I get through the races a lot easier than I used to.”
Ewan also admits he is now more accustomed to coping with the aura sprinters who not so long ago he saw as idols.
“I feel a lot more confident,” Ewan said. “Some of those guys I was racing against were the guys I was watching on TV when I was like 15 or 16. They were almost like idols to me.
“Now I am up against them and now I have to try to beat them. I am a lot more confident against them now.”
What should boost Ewan’s ambitions is the continued intent of the Orica – Scott team to support him, despite its focus on general classification in the grand tours, with the addition of German Roger Kluge into the team’s sprint leadout train. Ewan has not yet ridden with Kluge, but he hopes to make the best of some opportunities to do so at the Tour Down Under.
“I am looking forward to getting that started,” Ewan said. “Before he was more of maybe a third man in the leadout, but I think he has got the power and a good enough sprint set to come into second man.”
The importance of the Tour Down Under, where he won two stages last year, as a springboard to the European season is not lost on Ewan, whose run-up to Wednesday’s national criterium began with him crashing in the first race of three in the Mitchelton Bay Classic before winning the third leg.
“There is probably a bit better depth in the sprints this year,” he said. “But I am a year stronger and I have done well the past few days. I am going to bring that confidence into the Tour Down Under and hopefully get the same results as last year.”