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After Ewan’s hot start in Australia, pressure is on to win in Europe

The 22-year-old sprinter won three of the first four stages at the Tour Down Under, but his real test will come on European roads.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Caleb Ewan is the fastest man in Australia, yet despite a red-hot start at the Santos Tour Down Under, he still needs to prove himself on European roads.

The Orica – Scott speedster darted to his third win in four days Friday, denying two-time world champion Peter Sagan (Bora – Hansgrohe) a victory for the second day in a row. Everyone agrees the 22-year-old is on a tear; now he needs to prove it against the best sprinters in the world in Europe.

“There are a lot of young, quick guys coming through, and there are still the Greipels and Cavendishes out there, so it’s going to be a hard one to try to become the best sprinter in the world,” Ewan said Friday. “But hopefully I will one day.”

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Orica is taking the long view on its sprinting prodigy, and will not bring the boy wonder to the Tour de France this year. First, the team is hoping Ewan can deliver on his promise and earn some wins on European roads in races like Tirreno-Adriatico and similar races at the WorldTour level.

Orica sport director Matt White confirmed Ewan will return to the Giro d’Italia in May in a quest for a stage victory in the Italian grand tour.

“The Tour? First things first. He’ll be doing the Giro for sure,” White said. “Even though it seems like he’s been around for awhile, you have to remember he’s only 22.”

Although the Aussie team’s grand tour plans have yet to be officially revealed, it’s possible Orica could bring Colombian sensation Esteban Chaves to the Tour de France for his highly anticipated debut in the French tour, meaning the team would be firmly focused on the GC.

At 5-foot-5, the self-styled “pocket rocket” is picking up on the Australian sprint legacy of Robbie McEwen and Matt Goss. Ewan’s certainly made a big impression in his first two pro seasons, including a win at the Vuelta a España in his rookie year in 2015 and the German semi-classic Cyclassics Hamburg ahead of John Degenkolb last year following the relegation of winner Nacer Bouhanni.

Ewan is already off to a hot start of the 2017 season, winning four of five days of racing at the Santos Tour Down Under, taking the opening-weekend critérium and stages 1, 3, and 4.

“He’s got great form here, so let’s see what he can do when he gets back to Europe in March,” White said. “This is a great start to the season, and the next step in his development.”

For this season, Ewan will have the pressure to up his game and be more competitive at the WorldTour level across stage races and one-day classics. Of his 19 wins so far, seven have been at the WorldTour level, with five of those at the Tour Down Under and only two — the Vuelta and Hamburg — in Europe.

Last year in Europe, he snatched two wins, at Hamburg and at the Tour of Britain. He was second at stages at the Giro and Tirreno-Adriatico, so he’s already been knocking at the door for some big European results.

Orica is certainly happy with his performance this week. With archrival BMC Racing’s Richie Porte looking to have a lock on GC, Ewan’s surpassed expectations to give the team some momentum in Australia’s biggest race. His explosive kick and pint-sized build have many comparing him to Mark Cavendish. Ewan’s aerodynamic finish-line tuck is impressive, allowing him to squirt through holes and win drag races against larger rivals. He’s even spent time in the wind tunnel to hone and perfect his unique forward-leaning aero-tuck sprint.

That style paid off in spades Wednesday against Sagan, but while the world champion admitted Ewan is the fastest rider at the Tour Down Under, he added that Ewan still needs to prove himself in Europe.

“He is riding at home. He was all winter in Australia and he was training in good weather. I just finished the season in end of October and I did one month without the bike, for relax and holiday, and I started to train in December,” Sagan said. “For now, the best sprinters in the world — Kittel, Greipel, Gaviria — are not here. He is winning a lot now, because he is the best here.”

This season, Ewan’s ambition is to join that elite company of world-class sprinters, but he knows he needs to start consistently winning races at such events as Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo and the grand tours first. To give him a chance, Orica signed German track rider and sprinter Roger Kluge to help pilot Ewan in the bunch sprints, and the pair is using the Tour Down Under to get used to each other.

“I will be racing with Caleb across Europe this spring and we are very motivated to get some big wins,” Kluge said. “I am a lot bigger than he is, so he can tuck in behind me and I can help steer him through the bunch. Sprinting in Europe is not easy, but I think he’s going to have a big season. You can see he has more experience and confidence.”

The pressure is on Ewan to win against the likes of Cavendish and Kittel in Europe. Orica isn’t sweating it. They feel time is on their side.