When Caleb Ewan talks of winning in his likely World Tour debut at the Tour Down Under in South Australia next month, his coach Brad McGee warns that the emerging teenage star's words should not be taken lightly.
For several years, Ewan, 19, has been flagged as a star in the making as his results continue to impress, most recently last weekend with his overall victory in the two-race NSW Grand Prix criterium series that included a win in Cronulla and a second place finish in Wollongong.
It was a showcase performance in a year that includes seven wins in international under-23 races, the green points jersey at the Thuringen-Rundfahrt in Germany and fourth in the under-23 world road title.
However, at the Tour Down Under in South Australia from January 21 to 26 Ewan, who is not only a top sprinter but also a strong hill climber, will have to step up to another level, especially for the sprints against the likes of German flyer and two times winner Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
“To be exposed to that level of racing will be good,” Ewan said. “If you could beat him [Greipel] it would be a pretty big confidence boost. Maybe that is a bit too far fetched for now, but I will have a go.”
Ewan won't expect any favours from the Orica-GreenEDGE team he recently signed with until late next year – most likely as a stagiaire (trainee) – and full-time from 2015 on.
Until then, Ewan will race for the under-23 Jayco-AIS team. But a start in the Tour Down Under still beckons with likely selection in the Uni SA-Australia national team that is always invited to the World Tour event.
And Ewan says Orica-GreenEDGE will be as much his rivals as Greipel. “They will be there to win, and I'll be there to win,” he said of Orica-GreenEDGE. “I'll be there racing them as I would any of other team.”
McGee says Ewan will be ready for the challenge of World Tour racing.
“It's not the be-all and end-all of his year, but we have highlighted it and we will come in ready,” McGee said of the Tour Down Under's place Ewan's race program for next year, which starts with next month's Bay Cycling Classic series and Australian national titles in Victoria.
“There is a balance between having patience, because we have a long-term plan and vision to maximise his potential … We don't want to cash in early just for small gains to lessen the likelihood of going all the way.
“But Down Under fits very nicely. He is definitely very motivated for it. And there's not reason, barring injury, that he won't be ready for it. He has ample aggression and competitive spirit with humility. It doesn't matter who he is up against ... He is a killer and will be in there to win.”
Australian 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans believes the talented Southern Highlands rider's greatest asset that might “set him apart” from future rivals could be his mind rather than pure racing ability.
Evans was one of several people Ewan sought advice from before signing with the Orica-GreenEDGE. They are both managed by Jason Bakker.
While Evans' BMC team missed out on recruiting Ewan, the pair have forged a close relationship with Evans, 36, offering Ewan advice on his professional pathway, and Ewan keen to absorb it.
Sure, they are different types of riders, despite their versatility. Evans is a grand tour rider who competes for overall victory, while Ewan is a rider seemingly destined to shine in one-day races. But there are common hurdles to be faced and overcome for any professional career to succeed.
“His results show that he has physical talent,” Evans said.
“He has a good eye for the race and a tenacity to fight and win.
“Outside of the racing, for his age, he is quite level-headed and mature with his approach to cycling – a very important but often underrated aspect of a rider.
“It could be that this mentality, and him maintaining this is what could set him apart from being not just another good rider but something more.
“How much more? We have not seen the limit to his potential yet.”