• Thinking long, thinking big... Caleb Ewan. (AAP)Source: AAP
It may still be three months away, but Caleb Ewan has his eyes on a pink prize, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
4 Feb 2016 - 4:58 PM  UPDATED 4 Feb 2016 - 9:46 PM

Caleb Ewan is not short of ambition.

For the second year running, he finished runner-up to Drapac's William Clarke by less than a second on the opening stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour - but for someone who thinks second place is the first loser when it comes to a sprint finish, the result didn't seem to bother him too much.

"I think prologues are something I want to do well in, because in the future, if I start a big tour and it starts with a prologue, I want to hopefully be up there within the leaders, so if (the next stage) comes down to a sprint, maybe I can take the leader's jersey as well."

Back in December, after an impressive debut season that was highlighted with a stage win at the Vuelta a España among 11 victories, Ewan asked Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director Matt White about his propensity to compete in two races he's long dreamed of: Milan-San Remo and the Tour de France.

"(Milan-San Remo) is a race he can do very well in," White told the Sydney Morning Herald's Rupert Guinness. "(The Tour and Milan-San Remo) are races that he sees himself winning in. He is hungry to get in there and win whatever he can."

But asked if he was a chance to realise his Tour debut this season, White emphatically said: "Hundred per cent not. He is not ready for the Tour this year." (It's worth noting that Rohan Dennis rode the Tour as a first-year pro, albeit aged 23, and for eight stages only.)

Still, the architect behind many of OGE's biggest victories since the team's inception in 2012 said of Ewan, "He is sprinting faster than we've ever seen. His strength at the moment is his speed."

White indicated as much just prior to the start of this year's Tour Down Under, where Ewan indeed confirmed he was a cut above his previous best, taking two stages as well as the People's Choice Classic.

In Adelaide, however, his fiercest opposition came from Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data for Qhubeka) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) - the former a lead-out man for Mark Cavendish, the latter by no means prolific and the winner of just one race last season, the UCI 1.HC-rated GP Nobili Rubinetterie. The first stage of the Dubai Tour, which began the same day as the Herald Sun Tour, showed that, when up against the likes of Marcel Kittel and Cavendish, Nizzolo will, more often than not, come off third-best.

While White did not rule him out starting Milan-San Remo this year, he did not rule Ewan in, either.

Aside from his age and physical maturity, I wonder if part of White's reticence for not exposing him to these races is that in Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews, they already have two guys who can win M-SR, and in the case of Gerrans, has won (2012). With Gerrans sidelined through injury last season, Matthews, then aged 24, ran third behind John Degenkolb and defending champion Alexander Kristoff.

At the road world championships in Richmond, Virginia, last September, we've also seen how things can go awry with competing ambitions. Asked if Gerrans had helped in either chasing down eventual winner Peter Sagan or positioning him for the sprint finish, Matthews, who finished second to Sagan, told Cyclingnews: "No, I think we were sprinting against each other, unfortunately. We had two leaders so it is was it is."

Their rift is said to be reconciled but won't be forgotten anytime soon. Throw a trio of leaders into this year's M-SR and you could easily see a not dissimilar scenario popping up again, if all three were to make it to the Cipressa or Poggio in the front group. Same goes for any stage of the Tour de France that suited their characteristics.

"A Giro is the big target at the beginning of the season," White said of Ewan's objectives this year. "Who knows, we might take him back to the Vuelta as well."

Which brings me back to those remarks from the Herald Sun Tour.

At 9.8 kilometres, the opening stage of this year's Giro, slated for May 6 in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn, isn't a prologue per se but is short enough for Ewan to do reasonably well in. The following two stages are flat and likely sprint finishes - meaning that, if he was high on GC and won either, there's a good chance he would wear the coveted maglia rosa of race leader.

Granted, it's still three months away, but Ewan's clearly thinking about it.

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