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MILAN (VN) — One year after finishing second in the under-23 road race at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Spain, Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan stands on top, arguably the best young sprinter since Marcel Kittel. But you won’t see the 21-year-old star fighting for a rainbow jersey in Richmond. The Aussie is not racing worlds on Friday because WorldTour riders aren’t allowed to race the under-23 category. As for the elite race, Team Australia is leading with Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans on Sunday, so Ewan’s 2015 season is over.
Ewan, who finished seven seconds behind Norwegian Sven Erik Bystrøm in last year’s espoirs championship, has won 11 times over the last 12 months as part of Orica-GreenEdge. He ended his season on a high in the Vuelta a España, where he won stage 5 ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
The rocket-like start to Ewan’s professional career tops those of other big sprinters. Degenkolb won six times in 2011 in his WorldTour debut; Sagan registered five wins in 2010, his first full season with Liquigas. André Greipel and Alexander Kristoff failed to win their first years at the top echelon. Mark Cavendish won 11 times in his 2007 season with T-Mobile. Only German Marcel Kittel out-performed Ewan. In 2011, his first year in the professional ranks, he won 17 races. Kittel and Sagan, like Ewan, also won a stage in their grand tour debuts.
Ewan said at the Vuelta that having a “super team” like Orica helped him achieve his results. “Some neo-pros take a while to gain respect of the team,” he said. “My team straight from start, from the Tour of Beijing last year, they believed in me 100 percent, and always worked for me.”
In comparison, Bystrøm, 23, went through 2015 with team Katusha without a win. He did, however, win the youth classification in the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe stage race and was part of a team victory in the Tour of Austria.
Only the top-six finishers in the U23 road race at the Ponferrada wolds joined professional teams in 2015, and only two of the 10 won a road race over the last 12 months.
The other big performer from Ponferrada’s top 10 was Belgian Tiesj Benoot, who is now a member of Lotto-Soudal. The 21-year-old failed to score a victory, but he has collected points throughout the last 12 months. Benoot’s biggest coups were second overall in the Baloise Belgium Tour behind BMC Racing’s Greg Van Avermaet and fifth behind Alexander Kristoff in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Benoot also placed eighth overall in the Eneco Tour and 18th in the E3 Harelbeke classic behind Geraint Thomas of Sky. He is expected to start the elite men’s world championship road race in Richmond.
Ewan explained that the biggest challenge for him was going the distance in the professional races, like what Benoot did at the Tour of Flanders. “What I lack is what a lot of young riders lack, the strength to go the full distance,” Ewan said. “In grand tours, the stages are a lot longer than what I’m used to as well.”
After his breakthrough debut season, Orica could bring Ewan to the Tour de France in 2016. All eyes now, however, are on the next crop of U23 cyclists coming through. That group will contest its 162.2km road race Friday in Richmond.
The Ponferrada U23 top 10 and their win count
1. Sven Erik Bystrøm (Katusha, 0)
2. Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge, 11)
3. Kristoffer Skjerping (Cannondale-Garmin, 0)
4. Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal, 0)
5. Sondre Holst Enger (IAM Cycling, 1)
6. Iuri Filosi (Nippo-Vini Fantini, 0)
7. Hernando Bohorquez (Raza De Campeones, 0)
8. Ilya Davidenok (doping suspension)
9. Silvio Herklotz (Team Stölting, 0)
10. Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP – Powerplus, 0)