• Orica-GreenEdge's Caleb Ewan celebrates ahead of Giant-Alpecin's John Degenkolb and Tinkoff-Saxo's Peter Sagan on Stage 5 of La Vuelta. (AFP)Source: AFP
Winning a grand tour stage in your neo-pro year is exceedingly rare, which makes Caleb Ewan's Vuelta a Espana stage victory all the more exciting for his future in the WorldTour, writes Al Hinds.
28 Aug 2015 - 3:51 PM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2015 - 4:08 PM

Ewan's joy caught on camera
When Caleb Ewan crossed the line first on Stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana, his joy was palpable. It was a huge moment for the 21-year-old Australian, who is riding his debut grand tour, and doing so with great success.
Australia's Ewan claims Vuelta stage in debut season
Australia’s Caleb Ewan surprised some of the best riders in the world when he surged to victory in Stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana as his Orica-GreenEDGE team-mate Esteban Chaves lost the overall lead to Tom Dumoulin.

After years being tipped as Australia’s next big thing, Caleb Ewan’s maiden Grand Tour stage win earlier this week at La Vuelta a España felt as inevitable as me disappointing my significant other on Valentine's Day. With a handful of professional wins to his name already, and having gone toe-to-toe with none other than sprint king Marcel Kittel only a few weeks prior, to see Ewan notching a well-earned win in Spain should be none too surprising.

Of course, the Vuelta isn’t the Tour de France, and riders like John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan are deep into their seasons, but to see Ewan at the pointy end of a Grand Tour so young is as exciting as it is portentous.

Few sprinters can boast a first professional year Grand Tour stage win; Mark Cavendish and Robbie McEwen didn’t notch their first Grand Tour win immediately, Cavendish had a particularly rude awakening in his first Tour de France in 2007, Sagan didn’t even ride a Grand Tour his first year, while Degenkolb and Andre Greipel both came close at the Vuelta.

In the current crop of sprinting luminaries, only Marcel Kittel can match Ewan for stage success in his debut pro year; Kittel also notched a win at the Vuelta in 2011. Granted some riders served apprenticeships under more senior riders before being handed the opportunity to sprint for themselves, winning at such a young age, so early in one’s career is anomalous.

A big part of this is because being fastest in controlled conditions, or in the far-less specialised nature of amateur racing, doesn’t translate directly to winning in a WorldTour field. Navigating the front of a packed peloton against more physically mature, more experienced riders isn’t easy for even the best sprinters, but as a young, underdeveloped rider it’s nigh on impossible.

Even those that have the luxury of a strong leadout from the beginning of their careers, who can avoid much of the melee with experienced chaperones, see Cavendish say, at T-Mobile, still have to be able climb well enough to not have the top-end speed sapped at the finish.

Despite this being Ewan’s first professional year, perhaps part of his accelerated success comes down to his delayed transition to the pros.

Even at the age of 21, Ewan has been racing against top-tier competition since he was 17, and last year held himself back, rather than rush to go professional, to bed down his endurance and climbing legs. Since he began at Orica-GreenEDGE, Ewan’s had a train at his command, that he’s been dialling in ever since.

Without pumping up the hype train any more that it has been over the past four year, you can sense the anticipation for what Ewan might well do next year, with a full WorldTour season in his legs.

If he’s already winning punchy uphill finishes at La Vuelta, and bustling with Kittel at Eneco, the possibilities look very rosey for 2016 and beyond.