• Three times the charm for Caleb Ewan at the Tour Down Under. (Tim de Waele/Orica-Scott)Source: Tim de Waele/Orica-Scott
Comparisons between athletes are inevitable, but is it fair to ask what may be if they're not around, wonders Anthony Tan?
Cycling Central
20 Jan 2017 - 10:39 PM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2017 - 10:43 PM

You know the media is struggling to say anything that hasn't already been said when they start asking questions about who isn't there, or speculate what may be if so-and-so were.

In the case of Caleb Ewan and Richie Porte, it was always going to happen at this year's Tour Down Under.

"This is a vastly different man to the one who finished third behind Kittel and Greipel at the 2014 People's Choice Classic."

Both riders have bigger fish to fry this season, but as BMC Racing sporting manager Allan Peiper told Cycling Central after the stage to Paracombe, momentum is a wonderful thing. "If you have a look at the history of the last four or five years, especially of the Tour de France, you can see that riders get confidence as they build through the season," he said.

"They start off good, build to the next race and it's usually a winning streak all the way to the Tour."

While Ewan won't be riding the Tour this year, his early winning streak will certainly do him no harm when he does get to the bigger races in Europe. It's easy to say, 'If Kittel or Greipel were here it'd be a different story' - but would it?

From what I've observed this month, this is a vastly different man to the one who finished third behind Kittel and Greipel at the 2014 People's Choice Classic, as a 19-year-old member of the UniSA-Australia team. Once he got to the Tour Down Under, he struggled with the pace and positioning within the pro peloton; his best result 15th on the final stage in Adelaide.

Two years later at the 2016 Tour Down Under, the start of his second pro year, he won the People's Choice Classic then bookended stage wins at Down Under. He took another three wins that season including a stunning victory at the WorldTour-ranked Cyclassics Hamburg, beating John Degenkolb and Giacomo Nizzolo. Bahrain Merida's sprinter Niccolo Bonifazio, who finished fifth and third on Stages 1 and 3 at this year's Down Under race, told Cycling Central's Sophie Smith "he (Ewan) doesn't have super endurance. When we get to Europe with longer races it will probably change things." The Hamburg race was 217.7 kilometres.

Ewan makes it three at the Santos Tour Down Under
Caleb Ewan again proved himself too fast for Peter Sagan and the Santos Tour Down Under field after crafting his way to a third stage victory at the 2017 event.

"I'm another year stronger, I'm not fatiguing as much as I used to, and I seem to be able to back up stage after stage at the moment," Ewan said Friday in Campbelltown, his third victory this week, and the Paracombe stage aside, the toughest finale so far. Bonifazio was 91st.

If Kittel or Greipel were here things might be different in the sprints, and if Froome or Quintana were present at Down Under it might be different on GC. Then again, it might not be. You can only beat who's there.

It not difficult to understand why Vincenzo Nibali got so pissed when certain pundits devalued his victory at the 2014 Tour de France because he wasn't fighting with Froome, Contador and Quintana all the way till the end. Well, it wasn't the Sicilian's fault the former two crashed and burned, nor did he have anything to do with the latter choosing to ride the Giro (which he won) and Vuelta (where he crashed out while leading the race) that year.

Like I said, you can only beat who's there. If they're not, they're not worth talking about.