• Orica-Scott's Caleb Ewan is one of the rising fast men in professional cycling. (Getty)Source: Getty
Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan will again forgo a Tour de France debut this year but may get an idea of what the depth of competition there is like at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
23 Feb 2017 - 8:48 AM  UPDATED 23 Feb 2017 - 10:06 AM

Sitting beside Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) at a press conference on Wednesday, the 22-year-old succinctly surmised the quality of field at the newly minted WorldTour race.

“This is probably the best sprinting field I’ve raced against since I turned pro,” Ewan said. “I’m excited to see how I go against these guys, and hopefully my form is just as good as it was at Down Under.”

Ewan was unbeatable at the Tour Down Under last month, claiming the prelude criterium and all five of the available sprint stages. He didn’t figure in the proceeding Towards Zero one-day race in Melbourne on Australia Day, and returned to Europe for a brief respite thereafter. The national criterium champion then travelled to an Orica-Scott training camp in South Africa, from which he has arrived in the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s always hard to tell coming out of an altitude camp how you’re going to go when you’re back down at sea level,” he said. “Today I felt really bad but the day before I felt really good.”

Ewan didn’t provide a hint as to whether going up against virtually all of the best sprinters in the WorldTour served as an intimidating or conversely motivating task ahead of the race, which has enticed an equal volume of quality climbers including Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale).

Fast men go head to head in Abu Dhabi
Sprinters must be as dexterous as they are fast to claim stages of the Abu Dhabi Tour this week.

“I do feel some pressure to back-up after Down Under, but then as well I don’t feel maybe as much pressure as I did at Down Under because I’m not really expected to beat these guys,” Ewan said. “These guys are the best in sprinting at the moment. If I can get a result, it’s a bonus and hopefully, I can be up there with them.”

Orica-Scott publicly announced its Grand Tour captains this week, confirming Ewan would focus on the Giro over the Tour that Colombian climber Esteban Chaves will carry the weight of yellow jersey ambitions at.

Ewan is yet to compete in a full Grand Tour. He rode half of the Vuelta a España in 2015, winning a stage, and finished second to Greipel in stage 12 of the Giro last season, abandoning before the race hit the high mountains.

“I’ll be doing the Giro this year. I didn’t get the stage win there last year so I’m hoping to go back another year stronger and get a stage win or two,” he said. “I don’t think I’m just ready for the Tour yet, but it’s definitely something I want to do in the next few years.”

The third-year professional is on the same footing in terms of team support in Abu Dhabi with squads dividing support between their marquee sprinters and climbers at the third edition, which has moved from its traditional October timeslot.

“We’ve got four climbers and four kinds of sprint guys. I think we can do well in the GC as well but I don’t know. No-one has come here really with a full lead-out so we’re all on an even playing field,” Ewan said.