Five days out from the road race at the Australian championships, last year’s runner-up Caleb Ewan spoke to RIDE. He talked about his recent victory in the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, his team’s chances for the nationals in Buninyong this coming Sunday and how he’s adapting to life as a pro cyclist.
Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the exchange with Rob Arnold and/or read the transcript below.
– Photos: Jarrod Partridge
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Ewan: “Hopefully I can go better at the nationals”
RIDE: It’s the fifth day of 2016 and I’m talking to Caleb Ewan who is just fresh off a series win in the Summer of Cycling criterium series. The runner-up from last year’s nationals, he’s got to be a favourite for this year with [reigning champion] Heinrich Haussler not present. I wonder, would you see yourself as a favourite for the road race on Sunday?
Caleb Ewan: “If the race goes a certain way then maybe but usually this course wouldn’t really suit me… especially with the good climbers I’ve got as well, not just in my team but in the other teams. If they decide to make it really hard then this course will be too hard for me.”
We’ve seen you winning sprints… I wouldn’t say with ease, because you didn’t win every single one, but it seems like your speed is there. Is endurance also part of the package this early in the season?
“My endurance is really good at the moment, I think, because I had a good off-season and a good pre-season training up until now. And I thought, if anything, it’ll be my speed that I’m lacking but luckily it’s still there.
“Coming out of Bay Crits and the national crit tomorrow [Wednesday] as well, I should be going pretty well for the road race on Sunday.”
The line-up [for Orica-GreenEdge] was announced today [Mitch Docker, Luke Durbridge, Alexander Edmondson, Caleb Ewan, Simon Gerrans, Jack Haig, Mathew Hayman, Michael Hepburn, Damien Howson] and it looks like you’ve got a formidable crew around you. Obviously with ‘Gerro’ having had history in this race, he’s a candidate for the team. Or are they going to ride for you as leader? What’s the plan?
“Obviously we haven’t really spoken about the plan just yet but Gerro is obviously the clear favourite from our team. We know that he can go around the course pretty well – or, obviously, very well… the good thing about that is that it takes a lot of pressure off me and all my other team-mates who want to have a go.
“If we have a go and it doesn’t work out, we always know that Gerro is there and he can usually finish off the job at the end of the race…”
Give us a little overview of what you’ve been doing in the lead-up to the criterium series that started on the first day of the year.
“Well, I finished racing last season after the Vuelta [a España]. I had about a month off riding. Then there’s been a really steady build-up back into [it]; base kilometres and all that kind of stuff.
“Then, only a couple of weeks ago, I started doing a bit more intensity.
“I trained through the Bay Crits a little bit as well, doing rides before the racing…
“We got a good training block through Bay Crits and obviously I got good intensity from the racing as well. Usually that brings you up pretty well and it’s brought me up pretty well in the last few years, so I’m happy with how all that went.”
Given that we’re talking a few days out from the nationals, I just wonder if you can [explain] how you approach that race. It does have a real buzz about it; it’s got live television [coverage] and people understand the course and they understand the nature of the race now. The expectations are pretty high for everyone in it. Do you feel that weight of expectation?
“Not really… I find racing it really exciting.
“It’s such good crowds there and everyone is really enthusiastic about the racing – obviously, that’s the reason why they’re there. But I don’t feel like I’ve got any pressure.
“Actually, I think I kind of rise when you get the atmosphere and a crowd like that.
“I’m more excited to race it than anything – I don’t really feel any added pressure…”
For me, I think the buzz from the nationals in Australia comes from the fact that it’s so early in the year and it’s pretty much the kick-off of the season, isn’t it?
“Yeah, and a lot of the Australian fans won’t be able to watch any of the racing live… [for the rest of the season], most of it’ll be in Europe so it’s a great race to watch.
“Obviously the riders come around 18 times, so it’s probably one of the better races to watch. I think that’s the reason why the crowds are so big.
“If you go to a normal road race, you might see [the riders] comes past once or twice and that’s it.”
After last year’s fantastic effort up and over Mount Buninyong, you weren’t part of the Orica-GreenEdge line-up for the Tour Down Under. Do you expect that’ll be different in 2016?
“I am doing the Tour Down Under this year… and I think my form is obviously pretty good. And I’ve done kind of the same as what I was doing last year, but I think my form is probably better.
“Hopefully I can go better at the nationals. My form should be pretty good going in to the Tour Down Under. I’m looking forward to that as well.”
We’ve spoken about pressure but I’m just curious about how you approach nationals versus Tour Down Under. Are you excited about the prospect of going [to Adelaide]?
“Yeah. When I did the Tour Down Under a couple of years ago, I didn’t go as well as I wanted to go. But just being there and having the crowd there and all that kind of stuff, it makes it a really fun race to do.
“They’re going to expect me to go there with some better form than I did a couple of years ago, so hopefully I can get a few results as well.”
We’ve been talking for many years and we’ve watched your evolution and we’ve always made the forecast that you were going to be a successful professional because you love it so much. Is it still as exciting now as it was way back then?
“Yeah because there’s still a lot of races that I haven’t done that I want to do.
“It’s not like I’ve done everything yet so I’m still excited to do some of the biggest races in the world. And I think until I get there, it’s always going to be really exciting…”
The routine, for want of a better word, hasn’t become… ah, you’re not complacent about it?
“No, not at all.
“I still want to achieve a lot more in cycling and I know that if I want to do that, I’ve got a lot of hard work still to do. I don’t think I’m getting complacent at all.”
You strike me as someone who might get to the start line in Buninyong [for the nationals] on the weekend and have that extra pulse from adrenaline. Do you still get anxious about starting races?
“Yeah, always. I doesn’t really matter what race it is – small or big – usually when I’m on the start line, usually the adrenaline is going and I’m pretty pumped.
“Even on the start line in the Bay Crits, my heart rate was pretty high because I’m getting excited to race.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold