Caleb Ewan is one of the hottest sprinters in the pro peloton, and has in many ways only just begun his ride towards true greatness.
A while back we chatted with the man himself about just how he got to where he is today
ST; What was your starting point in cycling?
CE; I was born in Sydney and grew up in a place called Southern Highlands, a country area between Sydney and Canberra.
My dad was a rider when he was younger, and when we moved out to Southern Highlands he started riding again; just for fitness, and he did some club level racing too. I just followed him from there, and have been racing since I was about 10 years old.
ST; When did you realise that you were destined to be a sprinter?
CE; I probably really noticed the most when I won those first 2 stages of the Bay Crits in 2012. Before that I always thought I was going to be a climber.
When I was a junior and riding tours and stuff I always used to go for the KOM’s and the mountains jersey. I was also doing a fair bit or racing on the track, which contributed to my sprinting and I just naturally turned into a sprinter.
ST; When you first grasped your potential as a sprinter did you re-focus?
CE; To start with, not really. I wanted to be a sprinter who could get over climbs, and at junior and under 23 level a lot of the races are not real sprinters races where you have lead-outs and all of that.
The harder hillier races were the ones I found easier to win, not so much physically but tactically.
As an under 19 I could pretty much do anything, and was National ITT Champion too. At that stage you can get away with most things, but when you turn pro that’s when you need to be specific in what you want do.
There’s no point in me training for climbs as I’ll lose my sprint strength, and I’ll never be as good as the climbers; so I’m pretty much going 100% for the sprint now.
ST; The AIS do a lot of testing – what did your early test results say you should do?
CE; Actually, I don’t test really well, at anything, I’m a very average tester; and if you go off that, umm.
I see myself as a real racer. If you put me in a race and there’s an opportunity to win then I’m good. If you put me in a test situation and there’s nothing there, then I’m just not there either.
ST; How was your progression through the AIS system?
CE: I went to the junior World’s on the track and as a first year under 19, and then in my second year I went on the road team.
I won the gold medal in the track omnium that first year, and was second on the road race the next year. Then I went for 3 years into the AIS under 23 system, and that’s when I signed my contract with OGE.
ST; How fast did you learn the ropes when up close with these big name sprinters?
CE: To be honest, because I’d watched the sprints so much (on TV), and had been in a lot myself, there was nothing much really new.
The biggest things to figure out were when they went, when they waited, and how they timed everything.
With different finishes, different numbers of riders and so on that stuff changes all of the time. They never do the same thing again and again.
With wide roads, technical finishes; it’s hard to pick up things and learn like that (they are so different), as if you watch one day and then try to replicate actions the next day it just won’t work because everything is different.
ST: How different did you find sprinting after a 200-km stage compared to the 120-150km races you were used to?
CE; The big difference was that before we may race 150-km, and it would be all go for the whole race. In the pro races it’s really hard when the break is going away, and then it will usually stop and cruise for a while. But, inside the last 50 k’s it really ramps up and becomes flat out, especially for the last 20km.
Getting used to that flat out last part was really hard as you’re already full on the gas and then you still have to sprint.
As an under 23 you’re still going fairly hard for the last 15-20km, but when you get to the sprint you can still be pretty fresh.
ST; You’re not exactly a Greipel like giant of a rider, was being somewhat smaller a handicap to you early on in your career?
CE; When I was younger I was always quite under developed compared to the other guys I was racing with. I really had to think about what I was doing to be able to position myself to win.
I wasn’t one of those big strong guys who could come from the back of the bunch on the last lap of a track race, so I really had to think and learn. As I got older things levelled out a lot (physically), but I already had that knowledge and tactical sense learned.
The guys who were strong often still just sprinted from the front because you could, but things had caught up with them, as they hadn’t learned their tactical craft so well.
Us younger guys, who aren’t so strong to be able to win back then, in many ways it was a bit of a benefit – because at some stage everything catches up and levels out. If you’ve learned to race than you have a big advantage when it does come around.