• He got four but wants much more... Caleb Ewan. (Getty)Source: Getty
Should he stay or should he go? After dominating the sprints at the season's opening WorldTour event, it's a question not just on the lips of fans and pundits, but the man himself, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
24 Jan 2017 - 9:33 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2017 - 9:35 PM

When Caleb Ewan won his third stage at last week's Tour Down Under, of his impending Grand Tour trajectory, I said that "I'd imagine he'll be down to ride the Giro once more and possibly the Vuelta too - though it'll be at least another year or two before he gets a solid look-in at La Grande Boucle. It's premature to say if he'll need to follow Michael Matthews to realise this."

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The rider who impressed Anthony Tan the most Thursday at the Tour Down Under was, rather ironically, the very person with the least to prove.

Well, after Sunday in Adelaide when he took out the final stage, it seems he's fairly certain on the longevity of his tenure at Orica-Scott.

"I would like to see myself in the Tour de France as well but it is hard with the expectations of having a serious GC contender and me going for sprints," Ewan said, the "as well" bit referring to a remark made by overall race winner Richie Porte, who suggested the New South Welshman could win "three to four" stages at Le Tour.

Confidence boost for Ewan after Tour Down Under
Aussie sprint sensation Caleb Ewan has downplayed his chances of being selected for the Tour de France this season, citing his team’s increasing orientation around general classification.

"You pretty much have to go full gas for a sprint or a GC," he said, "and with a guy like Esteban (Chaves) and the Yateses (Adam and Simon) in the team, who have already podiumed at Grand Tours, it is going to be hard to take a sprint train for me."

Robbie McEwen, winner of 12 stages at the Tour and Giro d'Italia, also said last week it's only a matter of time before Ewan can be successful in July; not if, but when. The original Pocket Rocket, as far as Grand Tours went, McEwen was as adept as current world champion Peter Sagan at surfing the peloton in the closing kilometres, only faster in the finish, but his was a different time: sprint trains were around, but nowhere near as prevalent as today.

Furthermore, sprint trains in McEwen's heyday were mostly comprised of three to four, certainly no more than five or six, men. Today, the best sprinters invariably command almost an entire team, if not all eight men. It is also a confidence thing - an attribute leaders live and die by, because GC rider or sprinter or stage hunter, should an entire platoon be dedicated to one mission, if you are that leader, management is telling you their belief is wholehearted and unequivocal.

Ewan's remarks took on further gravitas this week after Adam Hansen, the Queenslander a long-time member of André Greipel's sprint train, explained to Cycling Central contributor Sophie Smith why he thought Lotto-Soudal was not as successful at last year's Tour (where the German won one stage, being the final in Paris) compared to the year previous, where they won four sprint stages. "Last year, we probably had too many guys for the last kilometre and not enough guys for before. I think that's why we suffered so much."

Hansen all in for Greipel at the Tour
Adam Hansen has called for Lotto Soudal to rework its lead-out train in a bid to return Andre Greipel to sprint supremacy at the Tour de France this year.

For argument's sake, let's say Orica-Scott's 2018 roster remained unchanged and Ewan went to next year's Tour, with Esteban Chaves their guy for GC. At his disposal, the Colombian would likely have Roman Kreuziger, Daryl Impey, Carlos Verona, Simon Gerrans (as road captain) and Damian Howson, along with Christopher Juul-Jensen, Luke Durbridge, or one of the Yates brothers. Ewan would have Roger Kluge and... well, that's about it. Guys like Impey and Durbridge would be 'on loan' if they felt up to it, but when you're going for the podium in Paris, there's not much wiggle room for sprinters or opportunists, as Bling Matthews, now at Team Sunweb, is sure to tell you.

For each rider who stood on the podium at last year's Tour, their respective teams had no objective other than to place their GC man as high on le classement général as possible. If Orica-Scott want to reach the same heights, which, on paper, is well within their grasp, then logic dictates they must do the same. Targeting sprints and opportunist-style stages is feasible, as Lotto-Soudal, Quick-Step Floors and Dimension Data have done and will continue to do, and what Orica-Scott used to do - but when you're fortunate enough to have a bona fide podium contender (or two or three) in your midst, as far as Grand Tours are concerned, it must be all for one, and one for all.

At 22, Ewan is but a neophyte when it comes to three week races; he first needs to earn his stripes at the Giro and Vuelta before progressing to the big one. Still, there's no denying he wants to be blooded into the Tour ASAP, no matter how painful those first steps may be. That his contract runs till the end of 2018 will do him no harm, for history has told us there a few teams better at managing young prodigies than the one he's currently with.