Caleb Ewan on Milan-Sanremo: “I’m happy I had a good result”
In the first of a two-part interview with Caleb Ewan, he talks about finishing second in Milan-Sanremo – the first of several major objectives for 2018.
“All that went wrong was that Vincenzo was too strong.” Shortly after finishing second in a Monument for the first time Caleb Ewan was smiling as he spoke to the media. He hid his frustrations well and recognised that being the runner-up in Milan-Sanremo is something to be pleased with. For some, it would be the defining moment of their career, but for the 23-year-old from Mitchelton-Scott the result is just another on a long list of achievements that is only expected to grow.
In the post-race interview, he expressed optimism. He was good this year, so he could win that race one day. “Yes, I hope so,” he tells Antoine Plouvin from Cycling Pro Net.
“It’s a race that I’m always going to be targeting throughout my career and hopefully I can win it one day.”
Caleb Ewan talks to Cycling Pro Net (above) immediately after Milan-Sanremo 2018.
By now, hopefully, you’ve seen the footage and understand how intriguing the 2018 edition of Milan-Sanremo was. An Italian win thanks to an attack on the Poggio and a committed application of a plan hatched before the race; meanwhile, behind Nibali there was a young Australian also doing exactly as he’d planned for months.
“It was the real big goal at the start of my season,” Caleb told RIDE eight days after finishing second in the 294km race. “I almost put all my eggs into that basket, to do well there. And I was going well but it was Nibali who was the strongest on the day.”
He gets the pleasantries out of the way when responding to questions about the race, adds a compliment to the champion, and then concludes with the obvious: “It was a little bit frustrating to come so close.”
This is pro cycling, you can’t win every time you target a race. For someone like Caleb, however, there’s a weight of expectation and he can feel satisfied even if it is frustrating. He wasn’t beaten by a sprinter and that provides a little bit of relief. He emphatically demonstrated that he was the fastest of the sprint specialists but, in the end, experience and cunning and the panache of Nibali is what earned the title.
“It’s a funny race,” said Ewan yesterday, “because, like, how often would you see a podium with Nibali and I?”
Not a common sight: Ewan and Nibali on the podium together.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
A multiple Grand Tour champion – winner of the Giro, Tour and Vuelta – ahead of a sprinter in a one-day Classic. It is funny to consider. If you placed a bet that this pair would finish ahead of a former winner, Arnaud Démare, the dividend would be healthy.
If it’s going to be a sprint then the obvious candidates are Ewan or Démare – especially when you see how committed his Groupama-FDJ mates were in the lead-in to the Cipressa and Poggio – or the rest of the top 10 from 17 March: Kristoff, Roelandts, Sagan, Matthews, Cort, Colbrelli, Stuyven… it’s an impressive roll call.
Nibali is no slouch. And he has a history in MSR; third, remember, in 2012 when ‘Gerro’ won ahead of Cancellara. Still, seeing Vincenzo and Caleb side by side on the podium is quite a sight. It happened, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see it again any time soon.
For both, a stated objective later in the year is the Tour de France: one hopes to win stages (and maybe the green jersey), the other wants to win the title (again).
Before Ewan makes his Tour debut, and Nibali returns to the race he won in 2014, there’s an entirely different set of objectives. First and foremost, for the Australian, is rest. According to team plans, he won’t race again until May when he’s scheduled to contest the Tour of California, which makes its debut as a WorldTour race in 2018.
In the meantime, the highlights reel of what happened on that cold, wet ride between Milan and Sanremo a little over a week ago will replay in Caleb’s mind.
When we spoke about the race, he was relaxed and happy to have a little time to reflect on what unfolded. He repeated his original sentiment: yes, it was “frustrating to miss a win in such a big race” and that “obviously to win a Monument would be a massive thing”… but he’s also moved on.
The next major objective is the Tour and next year, he’ll return to Milan-Sanremo with the aim of finishing one place better and ticking that off his ‘to-do” list.
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Not much in it… Nibali began his ‘sprint’ around 7.1km from the finish – and he held off the late charge of Caleb Ewan.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Replaying the race: Ewan’s observations on MSR
“It’s one of those ones that can go either way,” says Caleb about Milan-Sanremo. “If a strong climber has the legs after the 300km to [attack] on the Poggio, then it’s always hard to bring them back, especially a guy like Nibali who can descend so well.
“Once he gets to the bottom of the descent, it’s only just over two kilometres to the finish line. So, it’s not like they have to hold on for too long.
“It’s a race that can end up in a bunch sprint or can be quite scattered. I guess it just depends on what the conditions are like and how hard the race is before the climbs.”
There’s always talk about the climbs of the Cipressa (with ±25km to go) and Poggio (with the top a little over six kilometres from the finish line) but the downhill also often plays a roll, particularly the descent of the Poggio.
For Ewan, the TV images have served him well. He knows the roads – from racing and training – but also from watching the race on tellie over the years… and, likely, the replays that he’s surely analysed a few times in the last week.
I’ve spoken with Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss after their wins in Milan-Sanremo, and riding down the Poggio has been referenced. For Gerrans, the descent was managed while riding with Nibali and Cancellara; for Goss, it was with a group of sprinters. How was it for Ewan in 2018?
“It’s pretty quick,” he says, “and when we were going down this time it was really quick because we were chasing Nibali.
“It’s a reasonably technical descent but it’s not that long so you can learn it pretty easily, almost just by watching the previous Sanremo races.
“I’ve done it enough times [so that] I kinda know the corners pretty well.
“It’s different [each time]; if you’re going to be leading – either solo or at the front of the bunch – you probably need to know it a little bit better but, most of the time, I’m going to be in the wheels down there so I’m kind of just following who is in front of me.”
Michael Matthews is another Australian who has targeted the race. Like Ewan, he lives in Monaco and in the past, he’s done many a reconnaissance ride in advance of the race so that he’s got a full understanding of the technicalities of the descent.
Matthews didn’t get that chance in 2018; he may have were it not for a fractured shoulder sustained only three weeks beforehand, but instead of riding up and over the Poggio in the days leading up to the race, he was just trying to recuperate. In 2015, he did so many efforts up and over and, a few days beforehand, laughed about the repetition. “I’ve ridden it a few times,” he told RIDE in 2015, “I think I know every pothole along the road.”
That prompted the follow-up: was it like 10 or 100 times? “Ah,” said Matthews, “like 100.”
Not so for Caleb.
Matthews and Ewan both live in Monaco. Both have targeted Milan-Sanremo as a major early-season objective. Did Caleb find that he was ducking over across the border and taking a peek at the finish often? “Well, to be honest,” he says, “I don’t really get as far as San Remo that often.
“I reckon I’ve only ridden to Sanremo and beyond not even 10 times since I’ve lived here. In training, usually, you go into France – into the hills there – or into Italy but you just don’t get as far as Sanremo.
“I did the Cipressa and the Poggio a couple of days before I went to Milan for the start and that was the first time I went this year. So, I don’t really train there that often…”
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Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Managing emotions and form…
After an epic day like the one to Sanremo, one that’s been anticipated for so long, how is the come down? Did Caleb feel a bit flat the last week? “Not really.
“I’ve always had a plan to stop after Sanremo and have a break. I’ve just been enjoying some downtime and obviously I was training pretty hard leading up to it. There’s a lot of pressure and all that kind of stuff so it’s good just to have a mental break as well as a physical break. So, there’s not too much of a ‘comedown’.”
Now it’s time to shift focus, forget about the Cipressa and the Poggio and one long day in the saddle. Caleb Ewan is now in preparation for the Tour de France.
To round out part one of this interview, he explains his approach for the next little while and how he’s managing the quest to retain form for the main objectives he and his team have set for 2018.
“I’m happy that I had a good result in a race that was a big goal for me this season,” he says about Milan-Sanremo.
“I find it hard to hold form for a long time so if I was trying to hold form from now until the Tour, I think it would be pretty hard.
“I like to have three, maybe four, big goals for the year. And have training blocks and racing blocks leading up to them, so I split my year up.
“I’ve just finished my first part of the season, which is a really important part obviously: starting in Australia and then trying to hold it to Sanremo. Then I think it’s good for me to have a bit of a break now – a mental break – and just regenerate. Now all my training and racing is in preparation for the Tour. I like splitting my season up.”
– By Rob Arnold
Part 2: on training, equipment and Le Tour
Training – indoors or outdoors? And what can we expect from Ewan in his Tour de France debut?