Caleb Ewan: racing to the pro ranks
On 26 August 2013 – and again the following day – a young man from the NSW Southern Highlands sped across two finishing lines of a race in France ahead of everyone else. These victories in stages one and two of the Tour de l’Avenir were the seventh and eighth wins of the season for Caleb Ewan.
This French stage race for national teams – organised by ASO, the company responsible for the Tour de France – is regarded as one that exposes the talents of cycling stars of the future. The winner from a few years ago, Nairo Quinatana, recently finished second overall in the Tour de France; the 2008 winner, Jan Bakelants, has also made a name for himself in the pro ranks in 2013; last year’s champion, Warren Barguil, recently won two mountain stages of the Vuelta a España… and we’re sure to hear more about the Yates twins from Team GB who finished first and second in the mountain stage to Morzine on 28 August 2013…
When there was a sprint, however, it was Ewan who was gaining the most attention. Ewan turned 19 on 11 July and is now competing in his first season in the under-23 category. On 27 September, he expects to be part of the Australian team for the world championship road race in Florence.
With a little less than two weeks to go before the race for the rainbow jersey RIDE spoke to Ewan – the silver medallist from the under-19 road race at the 2012 worlds – to find out a little bit about his experience in the Tour de l’Avenir, what he expects from the world championships, and why we should stop speculating about which pro team he’s going to race for in the future. Things are looking bright for the young rider but he’s happy to wait until the time is right before he starts racing in the big league.
Here is a transcript of the discussion between Rob Arnold and Caleb Ewan…
The life of a bike rider
10 September 2013
Caleb Ewan: “The last time we did an interview, I came into the RIDE office.”
RIDE: That’s right and that was a few years ago but the progression continues doesn’t it? Were you surprised that you could win those sprints in the Tour de l’Avenir like you did?
Caleb Ewan: “I didn’t really know what to expect really. We don’t race all those guys a lot. We stay in Italy most of the time.
“I have to say I had a bit of confidence after [Tour de] Picardie early in the season and then in the Thüringen [Rundfahrt] where I won a few bunch sprints…”
RIDE: Let’s talk through the Tour de l’Avenir experience. Did you end up winning the green jersey?
“Nah, I lost it on the last day… I’m not sure how far behind I was in the end to be honest but it wasn’t really like the sprinter’s jersey – it was like an actual points jersey. The mountain stages, and that, had the same amount of points for the green jersey as the flat stages. Obviously once the race went into the hills, and that, I didn’t get many points.”
RIDE: That’s interesting in itself. You told me [a few years ago] that you were going to be a climbing sprinter, and that’s what’s needed at the worlds [in Florence in September 2013] so how did you go on the climbs?
“Uuuhm, yeah… ah, obviously once the climbs go real big – like when we went up the col de la Madeleine and few other other big passes – then there was no real hope for me because that’s when the proper climbers sort of come out and do their thing. But the transition stage, which was fairly hill, I got over that and that was the stage I got third in – and the break just stayed away.
“I don’t know, it really depends on how they race the worlds. On paper it’s probably too hard for me but if people are sort of hesitant and wait and wait and wait until the last few laps, then maybe I can get over it.”
RIDE: And will that be the tactic, wait and hope…? Have you seen the course or just heard about it?
“I’ve ridden it and it is really hard…
“The course is different to, for example, the course in Geelong [for the 2010 worlds] and this is much harder because there’s a four kilometre long climb in it: a proper climb every lap and then, straight after that, there’s a 600 or 700 metre climb that is really steep – probably similar to the steep one in Geelong.”
RIDE: What’s the plan then from here to there, what’s Caleb Ewan going to do before racing for the rainbow jersey?
“Uhhm, probably just train as much as I can in the hills. We’ve all got pretty good base coming out of l’Avenir and it’s just really about maintaining good form until now. And then there’s one more race [Tour du Doubs in France, 15 September] which will be pretty hard – it’s at a higher level, and that’ll be good – and then after that I’ll keep trying to hold the form until the worlds really.”
RIDE: The question that you’re going to be asked for a long – until you announce the answer – is: ‘When and who are you going to turn pro with?’ There’s a lot of speculation going on based around this question. Every time you win people are suggesting that you’re ‘wearing GreenEdge gloves’ or you’ve got a certain team-issue bike, or whatever… what does the future hold?
“I don’t know yet. I don’t want to go pro next year so there’s no real rush for me to sign a contract. And hopefully I can get a few more good results before I sign a contract. I really don’t know yet. Obviously the GreenEdge thing comes from me being in the AIS [WorldTour academy team] and we get all the bikes and whatever from that program. If that’s the path I take, I don’t know yet to be honest.”
RIDE: Pre-contracts aren’t uncommon. Have you had offers for a payment structure from anyone other than the team you’re with?
“Uhh, yeah, there’s been a bit of talk about it but I don’t know if I really want to lock myself into something now or just wait.
“If I keep going the way I am, then I shouldn’t have a problem going pro so there’s no real rush to sign anything really.”
RIDE: And you find, obviously, the environment with the Australian team is working…
“Yeah, the program here is perfect for an Australian, especially a first-year like me. We have everything we need here…”
RIDE: Can you give us an outline of how it works where you’re staying and tell us a little bit about that arrangement in Italy?
“We’re in a place called Castronno which is not a very big town but it’s not far from a bigger place called Varese [where the world championships were in 2008]. That’s more well known and it’s near Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. It’s pretty nice around here for training and stuff and it’s basically just a big house with little apartment sort of things within it, and we all get a kitchen, bedroom, whatever… and there are usually two people per room and it just works like that. We all go training together and there’s a good variety of riding around here – there are lots of hills and nice roads around the lakes…
“I share a room with Adam Phelan.”
RIDE: If you’re not racing and you’ve got a week to spend in Castronno, can you give us an outline of what your time might entail. You said that you had a recovery day today, but let’s say that you wake up on a Monday morning… is there a schedule outlined that you’ve got to follow through to Sunday evening?
“Ah, usually we get up and go across to the coffee shop because that’s just across the road and it’s the first thing we do each day.
“Every week it depends really on what we’ve got coming up. It always changes.
“Usually we won’t have more than three hard days in a row. Coming off l’Avenir, we’ve had a few easy days and then, in the last few days, we’ve started getting back into the harder training and leading up to the races we’ll still train hard – and hopefully go well [in Doubs] – and then start tapering off for the worlds.”
RIDE: You say ‘hard days’ – what’s a hard day?
“Well, two days ago we did a 200km ride around the lake and that’s, sort of, hard but only because it’s long… but we didn’t have to do any efforts or anything. But then yesterday we had to do motorpacing and then efforts up a climb. And that was four hours…
“We started off by doing an hour-and-a-bit just warming up, then we go behind the motorbike for maybe an hour or two and then we motorpace to this climb and do all our efforts up there… then just roll home.”
RIDE: And are you holding watts on the climb? Is that what the effort is based on?
“Yeah. But there are always different efforts. Yesterday we were doing two-minute efforts but pretty much just full-gas.”
RIDE: And what sort of wattage are you putting out on the climbs?
“Probably around 500 for around two minutes.”
RIDE: Do you get home, download the files and have a good look at it or do you just pass it on to the coach?
“Yeah, we look at it a little bit. We’ve got TrainingPeaks and we have a sport scientist and he looks at all that kind of stuff. His name is Paolo… I don’t know how to pronounce his last name. He’s an Italian guy and he’s doing his PhD with us and, yeah, he’s good. His PhD is about sprinting so it’s perfect for me.
“Most of the guys just look at their files and they know what’s going on really.”
RIDE: In the sprints in the Tour de l’Avenir, what was your output as you crossed the line?
“Uhm, I don’t know to be honest. In my best one, I probably hit 1,300 watts… but I don’t know what the averages were.
“I’m about 64kg, and that’s the same weight that I always am basically. It doesn’t fluctuate a lot. I’m 166cm tall, I think…”
RIDE: Is there anything else about the time in Castronno – beyond the cycling – that stands out as being really important aspect of being in a team environment?
“Not really. We get home and just try to recover as best we can really. Not much happens. Where we are is like a really little town and there’s not much to do here so we just sort or rest up as much as we can.
“There are seven of us riders and the support staff are here as well. I think there are another three or four, maybe five, who live here as well. The mechanics and stuff… it’s a pretty big place and a lot of people live here.”
RIDE: Do you feel Italian? If you weren’t in that environment, would you endeavour to settle in Italy? You know Europe pretty well now, where would you go?
“I don’t know. I do really like Italy for training. It’s just a nice looking place.
“I wouldn’t go up north: it’s flat and the weather is not that nice.
“I’d probably stay around here, I reckon.”
RIDE: Does it feel like a long way from the Highlands or is there something about Castronno that’s similar?
“Oh, it feels a pretty long way away, I reckon. I miss home a little bit but I’m not dreading staying here. I don’t really feel like I have to go home right now – I’m not counting down the days. When I first came over here it was a bit like that but now I’m getting more used to it and it’s just normal.”
RIDE: It’s just the life of a bike rider. Are you still working on your education?
“Nah, not doing anything at the moment.”
RIDE: Are you tempted?
“Ah… not really.”
RIDE: It’s the bike rider life for you.
“Yeah. So hopefully it works out.”
RIDE: Who is advising you on your team selection? Who are you talking to?
“Whenever I really need to talk to someone, Jean-François Quenet is good and obviously Brad [McGee] is good as well. They give me their honest opinion and there are some guys around here how have their opinions. I don’t know – I haven’t really asked that much about it. It’s not really on my mind at the moment to be honest.”
RIDE: It’s just all the speculators – people who are watching you win, enjoying it, and wanting to be part of the ride. Do you feel the vibe of support?
“It’s pretty good on Twitter and everything. My manager told me I had to tweet more because I don’t really do it too much. But after I win a race or something there’s always something good that someone’s written on Twitter or Facebook and that’s pretty nice.”
RIDE: It’s a lot different to how it was not so long ago. I was reading Charlie Wegelius’ book [‘Domestique’] – you should have a look at that just to get an understanding of how the life of an aspiring pro cyclist was only a few years ago.
“All the books I read are about cycling.
“I really liked Dave Millar’s book [‘Racing through the dark’]. I thought that was good. He was just giving his honest view of what happened, really. I was hooked into it.
“Obviously it was not a good thing but it’s interesting reading about what happened. It gives me more of an understanding of why they did it.
“It was a bad time really for cycling but I think nowadays it’s a lot better. You can sort of see that with a lot of the under-23s going into the pros and doing really well. That French guy, Warren Barguil, winning a few stages of the Vuelta – that’s pretty incredible: how he’s won, and he’s such a young guy.
“I’ve never met him but I think he won l’Avenir last year… so he’s obviously pretty good but to rock up to a Grand Tour as a first-year pro and win two stages like he did – that’s cool. It’s a sign of hope.
“I think that, back in the early-2000s or whatever, it would have been a lot harder to go from under-23s into the pro ranks given what was happening. You can see nowadays that it’s a lot better.”
RIDE: You don’t feel daunted? You’ve confessed to committing to a life of cycling and yet you’ve read stories like Millar’s. Do you start to wonder how it’s going to be for you or do you think that it [doping] really is gone?
“For the guys racing these days, I think there’s too much to risk really. I think it getting clean. Obviously there are still a handful of people who might still cheat but as far as the whole peloton goes, I think it’s very clean compared to what it was.”
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