How low can you go? For Ewan the answer is very low. Photo by SCOTT Sports
Editor's Note: This feature story and photos are courtesy of SCOTT Sports. The original post can be seen here.
Caleb Ewan is only 21 but has already made a name for himself as one of the biggest talents among the younger generation of top road sprinters. Apart from stage wins at the Vuelta a España in 2015 and Tour Down Under this year, the Australian who rides for the Orica-GreenEDGE WorldTour team receives a lot of attention for his unique sprinting position, which is about as low as you can go.
SCOTT Sports visited Ewan during his preparation for the Giro d'Italia at his European home base in Monaco to learn more about his life and what he does to be faster than the rest. Here's his take on racing and life in his own words.
My dad was a cyclist when he was a teenager but then he quit. During my childhood when we moved out of the city of Sydney to a village he started riding again because the area was a lot nicer to ride than the city. That's basically why I picked up cycling in the first place. I followed his steps and joined the local club. Before I was 10, I was always playing football. I guess that's what everyone plays in Australia but when I was 10 or 11 I picked up cycling.
I didn't do it because I wanted to become a professional I just liked being out on the bike and racing. I only really started to play on my mind that I could make a living and a career out of it when I was maybe 16 or 17. And that's about the time when I started to win races. Before that I wasn't really winning. I was a good rider and I was up there but not really good enough to be winning.
The hardest part, especially for young Australians, is to leave your home country, your friends and family and move over to Europe to race. When I first came to Europe I was 16 or 17. I feel you have to grow up a lot quicker than you would have to normally. Your life becomes a lot more serious a lot sooner. A lot of people my age would still be at university and do things that young people do while I'm already focused on my career in cycling.
I think I have to handle a lot more pressure than a normal 21-year old. If I'm starting to go bad, it's not just me knowing it but my team, my environment and everyone that follows the sport and my performances. Getting used to that is hard at a young age. I guess you miss a lot of your teenage years but I think if you have success and you have a good life, then it's all worth it.
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I didn't realize that I had good sprinting abilities until I was 17 and started doing well in the Bay Crits. Before then I always thought that I would be a climber. I was always pretty small so I was good in the uphills. At a young age, you can just do everything really. As I got older and my body and muscles developed I became more of a fast-switch sprinting kind of rider. Now my training is really dedicated to the sprint.
The thing I love most about it is probably not the actual cycling part of it. It's being successful and winning that draws me to the sport. The thing that motivates me most is that feeling of winning.
There are those days where you wake up in the morning and you've got 5 or 6 hours on the program and it's the last thing you want to do. At the same time, you never want to go to a race and lose it by a little margin and then look back and realize that you've taken shortcuts here and there in training. That would be a massive regret for me. The days where you don't want to do it but you have to, those are the hard days.
In the modern days of cycling you don't have to race so much to see where you're at because if you know for example that you have to be able to hold 400 Watts over a climb to keep up with the bunch you can replicate that in training thanks to the power meter and all the technologies we have at hand.
Ten years ago, the riders were maybe racing 100 or 110 days a year. Nowadays you're maybe at 50 or 60. I think the sport changed a lot in that regard. Instead we get these big training blocks which I actually like because it's good to get back into a normal routine where you train and eat well. When you race every weekend you never really get back into a proper routine. During the big training blocks we still replicate a lot of racing intensities during training with moto pacing for example so you're not really losing that race feeling too much.
The toughest part of the training is the high intensity stuff. We do a lot of long and low intensity efforts. The high-intensity stuff is really tough. We're not actually doing so much in terms sprint efforts, the training is more focused on getting to the sprint fresh.
You know you've worked super hard in training when the lactic acid builds up and everything burns, not just your legs but your shoulders, your arms, your abs, just everything. You've got that blood taste in your mouth. When you come home you're just absolutely empty.
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Most of the time during the season, you feel like you're 90 percent awake. You don't just jump out of bed and feel fresh. This probably only happens a couple of weeks into the off-season but during the racing period you're never really energetic. Some days you wake up and you feel like you're batteries are only half full and you're just totally stuffed up from training.
Compared to a couple of years ago, my training is a lot more structured. If I have been training a hard block of three days it's usually followed by one or two days of easy training to let the body recover whereas in earlier years I was training myself into a hole sometimes. If you have a really hard session on the program but you're body sends signals that it is not ready to do it then my coach can make a call and put in another easy day for example instead of training in a fatigued state.
I started to adapt the sprinting position I use today maybe 1.5 years ago when I did some tests in the wind tunnel and that particular position was by far the most aerodynamic. You get to a point where from a physical standpoint you can't sprint faster so you need to look for other ways to go faster. Let's say your maximum power output is 1400 or 1500 watts, there's a point where you simply can't go to 1600 or 1700 watts.
Consequently, you need to look for different ways to maximize your speed. It's not really rocket science that the lower you go the faster you'll probably go as well if you can put power out in this position as well. And this was actually the hardest part, to keep the power output high while being in this position which is pretty low and front-heavy.
The other thing that I had to overcome as well is that in a sprint you're obviously fatiguing towards the end and naturally you come up to produce more power. To change in your head that you go down when naturally you'd come up was a hard part of the process and took me a while to get used to. You have your skinsuit, your aero helmet and everything on. I know it does make a lot of a difference and it's good to know everything is done properly and you have the fastest equipment. This gives you a massive confidence boost.
The pressure I'd feel the most would be the pressure from within. The outside pressure doesn't really bother me because at the end of the day I know whether I'm ready or not for a race. Everyone else doesn't really know how well you're going.
When I'm in the lead up to that sprint I feel like I'm thinking a lot but then if you ask me straight after the race what I was thinking about, I couldn't tell you. I think the main thing that I'm thinking about is staying towards the front and in the position that I need to be in. I'm thinking of different scenarios, looking at the riders around me to see who's in the position to take you on in a sprint.
In the final there are obviously always risks that you have to take. Ultimately, if you're not willing to take these risks you won't be able to win the race. I don't know what it is that makes it so dangerous. There's so many more organized lead out trains. Instead of 10 sprinters, there are 10 teams fighting for position. In the Grand Tours, the GC teams want to be in the front as well.
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Now, let's say you have half of the teams with sprinters and the other half with GC contenders that basically means that the whole bunch is racing for position. As everybody knows there's a risk of crashes in the last kilometers, everybody is nervous and that makes it so sketchy.
There's never really a moment where I feel I'm going too fast. The weirdest sensation is somehow the initial part of the sprint where you're getting up to speed. You're already going super-fast but when the sprint is launched you're going 10 maybe 15kph faster. It's a pretty surreal sensation, especially now in that position that I go in, it's pretty scary because you're so close to the front wheel. Sometimes you're sprinting at 75kph.
I didn't even realize how extreme my position was until somebody filmed a side shot from me. It doesn't really feel like I'm going that low when sprinting but when I look at it afterwards I'm thinking of what would happen if I hit something in the road. I'd probably land straight on my face because I'm so close to the ground and everything happens so quickly. That's kind of a scary thought but obviously that's not going through my mind at the time of the race. The only thing that is going through my mind is getting to the line first.
A lot of sprinters they're quite loud and they want to be the center of attention. That's just the way they are. I'm maybe not the normal sprinter type in that regard. I'm not a loud mouthed person. What you see is basically what you get.
I'd love that after my career when people are talking about the best sprinter of a certain period they would name me. But I know it will be quite hard to achieve that. For me, the main thing at the end of my career is that I can look back over it and that I know I couldn't have done anything extra, I did everything I could to be the best athlete possible. That might mean I win a stage of the Tour de France or who knows maybe 15-20 stages. Probably the results part wouldn't matter so much but more the personal feeling that I worked super hard and whatever that brings, I would be happy with.