It has been a tumultuous period for Australia's young star sprinter Caleb Ewan. From the euphoric highs of working toward a debut at the Tour de France to the crushing blow with the unexpected announcement he had in fact been left out of the squad for what would have been the biggest race of his career to date.
Some riders get picked for events, others don't. Arguably it's just part and parcel of the sport.
The strangest part of the whole process between Mitchelton-Scott and Caleb Ewan was the early announcement, back in December 2017, that he would make his much-awaited debut at the Tour de France this year. It was out of character for the team, who in previous seasons waited until after the Australian summer racing to make schedule announcements for the Grand Tours.
There was speculation at the time it may have been a contractual stipulation in Ewan's contract that he got the chance to compete against the best at the Tour de France. Cycling Central talked to Ewan's manager and Director of Signature Sports, Jason Bakker.
“Not at all, it was nothing to do with contracts or whatever," said Bakker. "That was just the position they took at the time.”
In the wake of the announcement, Ewan issued a short response on social media. After spending the entire season building towards being in top shape at the Tour de France, it is understandably a shock to be left out at the eleventh hour.
“At the moment, my role is ensuring that Caleb is ok and dealing with the decision," said Bakker. "More of a friend than a manager and more of the human element as the focus at the moment.”
Reasons for the omission of the sprinting prodigy were the focus around the form of Mitchelton-Scott's general classification hope for the race. Matt White also raised performance issues for Ewan coming in to the Tour in an interview that appeared in the Herald Sun, saying that "Caleb has had 17 sprints this year and won two".
That judgement leaves out Ewan's second at Milan San Remo behind Vincenzo Nibali, winning the bunch sprint behind the lone escapee. It's a result that might have been changed if team tactics had been played differently and Matteo Trentin stayed behind to help chase Nibali rather than attack off the front of the race.
Ewan was good at the Tour of California, he won another reduced bunch sprint behind a breakaway and was consistently ahead of a number of Tour de France-bound sprinters like Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates). A crash on Stage 1 of the Tour of Slovenia hampered his chances in the final lead-up but he still claimed a podium place at the only other sprint stage of the race, bring his total podium places on the season to 11.
The reason a spot for a rider is publicly guaranteed so far out is often to take the pressure off, so they don't think they have to kill themselves to get a result too early in the season, when they're better off building steadily for July. Long training blocks aren't going to help win many sprints in California, they pay off in the third week of a Grand Tour when the legs feel ready to fall off.
Ewan's two-year contract with Mitchelton-Scott expires at the end of the season, and there was already speculation he'd be riding elsewhere next season with the Australian registered team increasingly moving to a focus on the general classification at all the Grand Tours.
Contracts are often negotiated well ahead of the August 1 contract deadline, before which, you aren't allowed to publicly announce riders are switching teams. That fact wasn't a factor in previous appearances at the Tour de France by Michael Matthews, who was known to be heading to Sunweb and Mitchelton-Scott denied it was a factor here.
Bakker was diplomatic when asked for his assessment of whether the business-side of things and contract discussions had affected the Tour de France omission decision.
“Not according to the team and what they’ve shared publicly," said Bakker. "You’d hope not and you can only take that at face value.”
The current situation isn't going to rule the future direction of Ewan's career either.
“It’s good business practice not to make decisions in haste or in the middle of an emotional period," said Bakker. "You let the dust settle, then you go forward. When teams make decisions and riders make decisions it’s based on the body of work and not just one thing.
"Among all the negativity and disappointment of this decision, there’s also been a lot of great things. You don’t want to jump into any knee-jerk decisions, I think that’s a pretty dangerous practice.”
There has yet to be any announcement of the rest of Ewan's season schedule, but the future remains bright for the 23-year-old who will no doubt be a star for years to come.
“I guess it’s pretty obvious how it affects this season as he’s not riding the Tour de France," said Bakker. "That was going to be the biggest part of his season this year.”
“In terms of future performances, you can’t let it affect you. You are going to have ups and downs in sport so you can’t allow those lingering effects. The guys aren’t robots, they’re human and have emotions and there’s going to be an understandable period of disappointment and in Caleb’s case probably even grieving.”
“But the sun comes up, the fog lifts and you time your move forward. I think you could say that with success as well, you can’t bathe in the glory of success either. Sport is a mixture of highs and lows. This is definitely a low for Caleb, but I’m sure it won’t have a lingering impact on his career.”
SBS will again be broadcasting the entire Tour de France in TV and via website streaming from 7 -29 July. Broadcast and streaming details TBC.