After four years in pro cycling's WorldTour, Caleb Ewan is looking to add some Tour de France stage wins to his palmares.
This summer Ewan hopes to add some Tour de France stage wins to that list.
Ewan is currently riding the Amgen Tour of California in the run-up to a long-awaited Tour de France start. He’s itching to make his debut in the sport’s biggest race.
“I would have done it a fair while ago if I had it my way but I think the team’s always had a plan for me,” Ewan told VeloNews this week in California. “They just planned for me to do the Tour this year. Ease into it I guess.”
Alongside Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria, Ewan has been heralded as the next big thing in sprinting for the last several years. He stood out from a very early age with his extreme over-the-handlebars style and impressive top-end speed, and raced his first full pro season with the GreenEdge organization in 2015.
He has been building towards a Tour de France debut ever since. In the meantime, Ewan has racked up results elsewhere. In addition to his Giro and Vuelta stage victories, he’s nabbed several stage wins at the Tour Down Under, a WorldTour one-day victory at the Vattenfall Cyclassics, and an impressive runner-up ride at Milano-Sanremo this spring. He’s ready to finally make the start at the Tour — although he acknowledges the squad has its reasons for taking things slow.
“I felt I was ready last year to do it. But I’m a pretty eager kind of guy,” he said. “If the team told me I was going to do it in my first year as a pro, I would have been like, ‘Yeah, cool, ready to go.’ I guess they have more experience than I do developing riders.”
The rise of riders like Ewan, Gaviria, and LottoNL-Jumbo’s Dylan Groenewegen marks a major transition in the top tier of elite sprinters. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) are entering the twilights of their sprinting careers. And although younger than ‘The Manx Missile’ and ‘The Gorilla,’ Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) turned 30-years old this year.
Meanwhile, few riders in their late 20s have really proven themselves worthy of inclusion among the very top echelons of fast finishers. That creates a definite line of demarcation between sprinting generations. Ewan is happy to be at the forefront of a generational shift — but he cautions against saying that said shift has already occurred.
“I don’t think it’s happened just yet,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s too far off.”
Ewan expects Cavendish and Co. to stay competitive for a little while yet. That’s a good thing for cycling, which has at times seen single riders seemingly unbeatable for long stretches.
“It’s pretty exciting for sprinting to have such a strong field, not just now but also coming through, and maybe that’s something that sprinting has kind of missed prior to this,” Ewan said. “Four or five years ago, there weren’t so many sprinters. It was just whoever was dominating at the time, like when Cav was dominating and just winning easy.
“Now when you look at a Tour de France stage, it’s tire lengths, it’s really close between a lot of riders.”
Even at 23, Ewan has already been racing at cycling’s highest level for some time now. He has raced in three grand tours, and although he has yet to finish a three-week race, he has evolved significantly from his early days as a pro.
“I definitely think my endurance has improved a lot. I think I showed that in Sanremo this year, that I could still sprint pretty well after seven hours of racing,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest improvement I’ve seen over the last few years.”
The classics may be a bigger goal down the road. Ditto the green jersey at the Tour de France. For now, it’s all about chasing sprint stage wins.
Ewan may have to make do with less support that his top rivals will have this July. Mitchelton-Scott’s Tour lineup will have plenty of sprint train heavyweights to guide Ewan, but there may be a few mountain goats en route to France to shepherd Adam Yates on the climbs. An increased focus on racing for general classification titles has been the name of the game for the team in the last few years.
As Esteban Chaves and Adam and Simon Yates develop, Mitchelton-Scott has been pouring resources into signing veteran all-rounders like Roman Kreuziger and Mikel Nieve. That said, the squad has also brought on the likes of Luka Mezgec and Roger Kluge to stay competitive in the battle for positioning in the build-up to a bunch kick.
Ewan says he is happy with the level of investment Mitchelton has made in the sprints while upping the ante for their GC riders as well. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that it’s a challenge for the team to juggle multiple goals. There may come a time when that challenge becomes an issue.
For now, Ewan is content with the status quo.
“I think I’m going to be getting better and the Yateses and Esteban are going to keep getting better,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to come to a point where it’s going to be hard to manage both. It will be interesting to see. At this point, it’s not an issue.”