Up until last week, Australia had two prospects to take on Peter Sagan and the other best sprinters in the world for the maillot vert in 2018, Ewan and defending champion, Michael Matthews (Sunweb).
Now it seems Ewan will have to wait a little longer.
Ewan’s readiness for the chaotic task has been a talking point by the team since he was a neo-pro and we were assured that the greatest of care would be taken with his development. And so when it was publicly announced last December, off the back of the customary talks with the rider and his management regarding the season ahead, that the 23-year-old would be on the start line in Île de Noirmoutier, most of us nodded in agreement that it was indeed time.
December can be a tricky time in professional cycling. In the age of a 24/7 news cycle and social media, teams and riders are looking to continue their marketing momentum. Announceables are important. A new season is just around the corner, journalists are brushing off their end of season hangovers, and riders are keeping the legs ticking over and plotting their opening months of the season.
Heading into a busy Australian summer, Mitchelton-Scott’s press release set up Ewan’s season perfectly and a start at the big show was a “natural progression.” It was also a none-too-subtle tap on the shoulder to Australian media to get on board and follow Ewan’s progression.
Ewan was predictably quoted as saying he was “ready for it” and Matt White agreed.
“It’s the Tour de France, and there will be immense competition for every stage, but Caleb is ready for that and with the additions we have made to our sprint train over the last couple of seasons we have the speed and the strength in depth to get him in a position to fight for the win,” trumpeted the release.
SBS will broadcast the Tour de France live in HD from 7-29 July.
Caleb Ewen has every right to feel disgruntled – on paper, and likely in discussions with management, he had every reason to believe that he had support. Given the way the team has managed his career, the December announcement allowed Ewan to get on with his new season, quiet any speculation around his 2018 race calendar as well as letting the team put a stake in the ground around their rider’s future.
In cycling as in life, there are never any guarantees, this one will sting, and the biggest loser is in fact, Mitchelton-Scott.
The team’s December announcement is now a PR disaster. Trust is not in the cycling communities second nature. That there has been a backflip over Ewan’s Tour start not only leaves fans questioning the team’s motives, but it’s an action that will be remembered for a long time to come by riders and their managers.
When Gerry Ryan delivered cycling fans a WorldTour team, GreenEdge was presented as an outfit that would compete with a sense of fairness, determination, togetherness and with a hint of Aussie larrikinism. It was a destination for young Australian riders long and often alienated by traditional European teams. As time has gone on, the team has gradually shuffled sideways from its Australian roots and has waved the flag selectively as its roster has evolved.
Branding 101 demands that you create a product that can capture the hearts and minds of the general public. This is something that Mitchelton-Scott, since its iteration back in 2011, has never quite managed to get right back in Australia. There’s been the odd flourish of activity off the back of the Backstage Pass series, but where the number one goal should have been for one of their Australian riders to become a household name at home, the team has failed, and the sport here has not advanced as expected.
Ewan has long been touted as Robbie McEwen’s heir apparent. When McEwen was sprinting at his peak in the early 2000s, his fortunes were routinely reported each July across commercial news bulletins and throughout broader media. Everyone knew that McEwen was riding at the Tour de France. The same went for Cadel Evans. The team had an opportunity with Simon Gerrans, but couldn’t get it over the line in spite of his success while racing for the Australian outfit. Now with Ewan, another opportunity for Mitchelton-Scott to build a narrative and a robust marketing platform around a young Australian sporting star has gone down the gurgler – for now.
Speculation around Ewan’s future with Mitchelton-Scott cannot be ignored within this mix. Loyalty counts for much in July, and while Ewan’s camp along with Mitchelton-Scott has denied it was a factor in the decision, both parties would, of course, say as much.
If a decision has not already been made regarding Ewan’s future with the Australian team, you can bet the events of the last week will play a role in where he ends up next. The pressure is now on Mitchelton-Scott to get Adam Yates on the podium in Paris.