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BUSAN, South Korea (VN) — It’s a homecoming of sorts for 20-year-old Australian Caleb Ewan. The Orica-GreenEdge neo-pro, who was raised in Sydney by his Korean mother and Aussie father, makes his Tour de Korea debut when he lines up for the 189.1-kilometer opening stage in the seaport city of Busan, South Korea on Sunday.
While this is only his second time to visit Korea, Ewan says he still has close ties to the country and is excited to race in his mother’s native land.
“I’ve only been here once when I was a lot younger,” said Ewan. “It’s unfortunate that I haven’t been back as it’s a really nice country and I’m quite close to the Korean side of my family because I lived right near them when I was younger and spent a lot of time with them.
“I couldn’t pick up the language which was unfortunate but I love the food and it’s a really nice culture and everyone here is very polite, so it’s a nice race to come to.”
Ewan grew up playing rugby and soccer, but took up cycling when his father, also a keen cyclist during his youth, returned to the bike for fitness more than a decade ago. Ewan’s parents gave him a mountain bike for Christmas, which he actually used to win his first race — in a velodrome – when he was just 10.
In 2011, Ewan was crowned a world junior track champion and by age 16 was off pursuing his pro cycling career which officially began in October of last year when he signed with Australian-owned GreenEdge.
The 2014 U23 national road race champion wasted little time making an impact this season, finishing second to Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) in the elite men’s national road race in January, followed by two stage wins each at both the Herald Sun Tour and Tour de Langkawi, as well as a win at the one-day Vuelta a La Rioja.
Now with five wins already decorating his palmares in 2015 – a number team sports director Matt White had set as a goal this season – Ewan looks to add to that total during the eight-day stage race in the predominately sprinter-friendly Korea against a field of Continental and Pro Continental squads.
“I’m pretty happy with how it’s started so far,” said Ewan, who claimed a close second to Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) in the opening stage of the Tour of Turkey in April and two runner-up finishes at the Tour of Norway in May.
“The team gave me a goal of five wins for the year, and already have that now so there’s a little bit less pressure from the team now to win races, but I still want to win. There are still some good races including this one where I can get a few more wins and maybe at the end of the year I can do a grand tour.”
While not racing a heavy schedule to date, Ewan told VeloNews after the pre-race press conference on Saturday he feels “a little bit tired” after a long season that began with three criterium wins and his second career Bay Crits Classics crown the first week of the year, and also included a move to his new European home base in Monaco in the spring.
“I’ll probably have a break after Korea,” he said. “But my form should be still pretty good right now, and if things are going well and I can get a few good results at the Tour of Poland in the second half of the season then hopefully I can start the Vuelta.”
As for Korea, Ewan faces eight potential stage wins as well as a run at general classification with only Wouter Wippert (Drapac Pro Cycling), who is fresh off a pair of second-place finishes to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Cavendish at Tour of California stages 4 and 8 respectively, considered a real threat in the sprint.
“I haven’t really thought about the GC a whole lot,” said Ewan. “I just want to come here and try to win a few stages and if GC comes with that then that’s a really big bonus.
“I’m just going to focus on stage wins for now and see how we are going towards the end of the tour.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews