ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — The name on everyone’s tongue this week for the Santos Tour Down Under isn’t Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans, or Richie Porte.
The Aussies are all in a tizzy over a 19-year-old prospect who many believe could be the next big thing. His name is Caleb Ewan, and he’s generating huge buzz among the antipodeans.
Mark Renshaw, the Australia sprinter who returns to his role as leadout man for Mark Cavendish at Omega Pharma-Quick Step this season, said he’s impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s a real talent, Caleb,” Renshaw told VeloNews. “I’ve watched him the last few years. He’s got a lot of talent and natural ability. He’s got a similar build to Cavendish, but he climbs better. Maybe he doesn’t have that pure punch that Cav does. He’s got all the makings. Hopefully, they remember how old he is, and hold him back a little bit.”
At just 19, Ewan won U23 national titles earlier this month in both the criterium and road categories, and is set to ride with Orica-GreenEdge as a stagiaire later this summer before joining the UCI ProTeam in 2015.
Racing in the UniSA amateur team in Sunday’s 50km People Choose Classic, Ewan bumped shoulders with the elite pros and managed to punch through to third.
Showing confidence beyond his age, the pint-sized Ewan picked his way through the mad scramble to the line, tucked in behind the 6-foot-3 Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), and landed on the podium.
“I am disappointed not to win, but those two guys [André Greipel and Kittel] are the best sprinters in the world,” Ewan said Sunday. “I’m excited to be racing here this week, because these are the guys I will be racing against in the future.”
Many are quick to compare him in build to Cavendish, arguably the world’s best sprinter in today’s peloton. One difference is that Ewan also has excellent climbing credentials, with a fast finishing punch after a hard effort.
How far Ewan goes remains to be seen. Ex-pro Patrick Jonker even went so so far as to compare him to Eddy Merckx, telling Australian journalist Rupert Guinness that Ewan could emerge as the most prolific Aussie rider in a nation that’s produced its fair share of winners.
“He’s someone Australian cycling has never seen — a phenomenon,” Jonker told the Sydney Morning Herald. “You probably go back to Eddy Merckx for the last prodigy child. I’m not saying he’s in that category, but he’s awfully close.”
That kind of anticipation created a bidding war for his services. Orica won the sweepstakes, but BMC Racing was another team that was trying to sign the raw talent.
Renshaw said he hopes Orica management will go slow with Ewan, and give him a chance to find his place. The sport is littered with prospects that shine at the U23 level only to bust in the pro ranks.
“I think he’s got a lot of people telling him how good he can be. I just think he needs to remember that it’s a long road to being the best sprinter in the world,” Renshaw said. “Everyone should remember he’s only 19.”
But Renshaw admitted he’s impressed with Ewan’s scrappy style, and compared him to none other than Cavendish.
“I’m going to piss Cav off and say he’s probably better than Mark Cavendish,” Renshaw said. “At our training camp, I was in a room with Cav, I said there’s a better kid coming along than you. He asked me how old he was, and I said 18, and he said he’d already won three stages in the Tour by then.”
Cavendish, of course, didn’t win his first Tour stages until he was 23. Ewan could go a long way to confirm his hype with a victory in the Tour Down Under, which clicks into gear Tuesday.