"In 2016, Team LottoNL-Jumbo started the sprint project around Groenewegen. The goal was to achieve success in the 2018 Tour de France."
By now, Caleb Ewan should be racing his second the Tour de France, because the sprint project around him began when they hired him four years ago as a stagiaire, at the tail end of the 2014 season. Like LottoNL-Jumbo for Dylan Groenewegen, for Ewan and what was then Orica-GreenEDGE, the Tour - and specifically, winning stages - was always the goal.
In 2015, aged 21, he got his first taste of a Grand Tour at the Vuelta a Espana. He proved himself by winning the fifth stage and left after 10 days.
The next year, he stepped things up: two top-fives at the Giro d'Italia including second place to André Greipel on Stage 12, before leaving the race the next day. On August 21, he won the 217.7 kilometre-long Cyclassics Hamburg WorldTour race - beating John Degenkolb, Giacomo Nizzolo, Danny van Poppel, Alexander Kristoff and... Dylan Groenewegen. In September at the Tour of Britain, where a number of the world's best fastmen were fine-tuning their engines before the world championships in Doha, he finished second to Greipel on the first stage but took sweet revenge in the finale in London.
Besides Greipel, who did he beat?
Yep, Dylan Groenewegen, who finished second.
He DNF'd at the Worlds in Qatar but had surely done enough to be blooded at the 2017 Tour. Instead, his team sent him back to the Giro.
He shouldn't have needed to but proved his worth yet again, narrowly missing out on victory on the opening stage (Lukas Pöstlberger took a late flyer to claim line honours) before winning Stage 7 ahead of four-time stage winner - and double-stage victor at this year's Tour - Fernando Gaviria; he also beat Sam Bennett (a three-time stage winner at this year's Giro) and Greipel that day. Déjà vu once again: Orica-Scott also sent him back to the Tour of Britain where he was easily the best, taking a hat-trick of stage wins.
Who did he beat there?
Gaviria, Kristoff, Elia Viviani, Edvald Boasson Hagen... and Dylan Groenewegen, who was now two years into his TdF sprint project with Team LottoNL-Jumbo.
Now Mitchelton-Scott, the team could no longer use the line, 'He's still too young - he needs more experience before we send him to the Tour'. Ewan was beating the best; it was time for Le Tour. As far back as December 15 they issued a press release to say "young Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan will make his Tour de France debut", whose own goals would be balanced against that of Adam Yates as "the team's only general classification rider at next year's Tour de France".
Stated the release: "Adam Yates will share the leadership role with young sprinter Caleb Ewan."
Doesn't get much clearer than that.
"We won't be the only team heading to the Tour with a world class sprinter and GC leader," said their head sports director, Matthew White, "and I am confident we have a group of guys who can manage helping both Caleb and Adam in this two-pronged approach."
Somewhere along the line, White's fork must've got stuck in cement, because on June 21 this year, a mere fortnight out from the Grand Depart, it was announced one of those prongs had fallen off.
The prong with Ewan's name on it.
"Original plans were to split the Tour de France team between GC and sprint ambitions with Caleb Ewan. However, this season's results have seen the high-performance team throw their support behind Yates as sole leader for the Tour de France, with ambitions for results across all three weeks of the Tour."
There has been no one dominant sprinter this season. No pure sprinter has been head and shoulders above the rest. A number of teams including Dimension Data - that of 30-time stage winner at the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish - and Katusha-Alpecin - that of 14-time TdF stage winner Marcel Kittel, five of which came last year - were sending sprint teams based on performances from seasons past, rather than the current one. With La Grande Boucle in mind, Ewan was not expected to be firing until Milan-San Remo (where he finished second to Vincenzo Nibali, and was thus the best sprinter) and the Tour of California, where he scored four podiums including two second places and finished second on points to Gaviria.
As far as I'm concerned he'd done enough to warrant inclusion.
With three different sprint winners in the first eight days' racing, the results of the season have been reflected at the Tour. No one man has presided over the rest, and as such, it would've been a perfect race for him. What's more, Ewan has beaten Gaviria, Sagan and Groenewegen on multiple occasions.
Would he have won a stage? Maybe. Maybe not. But you can only win it if you're in it.
The Mitchelton-Scott sprint project around Caleb Ewan is dead. He cannot afford to miss another Tour de France. And that is why he must find new pastures.