Lee’s Lowdown: Conquering Caleb!
Young gun Caleb Ewan has been showing that his sprinting promise is the real thing as he whopped the peloton in the People’s Choice crit and stage 1 of the WorldTour race; the Santos Tour Down Under. Lee turns his eye on the rocket from Sydney for a sprint Lowdown down under.
He is The Man from Down Under and I’ll tell you what, he’s a bit fast is that lad Caleb Ewan. In an age where young talent is hyped to the rafters long before they are given a chance to mature and where pressure can be crushingly piled on to frail shoulders far too early, here is a young man who on the surface of things appears to be very well equipped to make the transition from promising junior to fully fledged professional.
Winning Stage 1 of the 2016 Tour Down Under
Some will argue that Ewan’s victory on Stage 1 of the 2016 Tour Down Under was a slightly cheapened one due to the fact that sprinters such as Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel are absent, opting to open their seasons closer to home in Europe. Whilst its true that there are few truly fast men on the start list in Oz this January, you’d be hard pressed to find a rider who could have denied Ewan his victory on Stage 1. His final 30 meter spurt was reminiscent of a certain Manxman, another rider short in stature but not of speed, with whom Ewan shares the nickname ‘Rocket’.
Ewan’s palmarès as a junior and U23 rider is of the length and quality that’s usually owned by riders who fade away once they enter the professional ranks, either as a result of burn out or also because others also rising up through ranks with them, possessed of a less precocious talent go on to mature as more rounded riders. Basically, those athletes who were dominant at youth level don’t often go on to fulfill their early promise.
In the young Aussie’s case, he has been Australian junior road, points, madison, omnium, time trial and criterium champion, was second in the Junior World’s in 2012, won two stages at the Tour de l’Avenir at 18 and came 4th in the U23 Worlds the same season, won a Rainbow jersey in the Junior Omnium in 2014 and became Australian U23 road race champion in 2012 aged 19. To top it all off, in his last few weeks before turning pro for Orica-GreenEDGE he came second in the World U23 road race.
Winning the sprint for second in the Under 23 World road race championships
That’s some going, young man. Taking absolutely no time at all to bother acclimatizing himself to his new position as a top pro at OGE, he then promptly won the Michelton Wines Bay Classic and took the first three stages, then won stages one and two at the Herald Sun Tour. A month or so later he took two big wins at Langkawi and made off with the top sprinter’s jersey.
But that was just a fluke, right? Not major Euro races, they said. Well, what followed was a win at the Vuelta Rioja where he beat Daryl Impey by a bike length, leaving riders like Alejandro Valverde in his wake. Back to Asia he then went to win the very tough Tour de Korea (I know because I’ve raced it, it is a tough little race that) and 4 stages in total, and then came, most impressively of all, a win on Stage 5 at the Vuelta a España.
He beat a few nobodies that day, you’ve probably never heard of them, guys like Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, those kind of bums. And he didn’t just win it, he smashed it. Watching the final rising meters you might think it was close, but it was nothing of the sort. You can see that Ewan has oodles of energy left as he goes for the line whereas Degenkolb is sputtering and Sagan is way off the pace. So Ewan can sprint flat and he’s got the power for incline finishes too, something most sprinters have to work on.
That Vuelta win
His first year as a professional was arguably the best ever for a sprinter and his win on Stage 1 in Australia just the other day shows he means to carry on in 2016 where he left off in 2015. I wonder if the Australian selectors for the 2015 World’s in Richmond regret going for Matthews and Gerrans and leaving Ewan at home? Certainly Sagan won brilliantly but the Australians could not unite behind a single rider. On courses with a flat finish, from here on in, Ewan looks like being the first name on a start list for the national team.
Has he got any chinks in his armor? Only one, according to him.
“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.”
He’s got plenty of time to sort that out, and when he does he’ll be knocking on the door in races like Milan-San Remo.
Having complained about commentators going on and hyping up young riders without giving them a chance to mature at the beginning of this article, I realize I’ve done exactly the same thing! Hard not to though with a young man like this, very hard not to.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.