In my last diary post for CyclingTips I mentioned that I was about to head off to Canberra for a month-long training camp with the rest of the Jayco-AIS U23 WorldTour Academy team. We arrived to Canberra in late February and Alex Clements and I spent the first week in an altitude house there.
After that the whole team rode up to Charlottes Pass on Mt. Kosciusko and we did five or six days up there training in the hills. After that it was back to Canberra and everyone was in the altitude house for around 10 days.
The house was set up to simulate an altitude of 3,000m which was a bit hard to get used to. Initially it felt like you’d just skipped a breath and you couldn’t get enough air in. But after the first few nights your body gets used to it and it’s all fine.
A few people have asked me whether I noticed any improvement in my form after sleeping at altitude for a few weeks. It’s pretty hard to say. The team came out of the training camp riding well but if we hadn’t slept at altitude we might have been going good too. It’s hard to know what it would have felt if we hadn’t slept at altitude because I’ve only got how I felt afterwards to go on.
Either way it was a great training block there in Canberra and it was great to get the team back together after the Australian summer before we all headed over to Europe.
We’ve got a couple of new guys on the team this year: Rob Power and Harry Carpenter. Harry showed over the summer that he’s in great form, coming second in the nationals ITT and spending basically the whole nationals crit off the front. He did pretty well in the road race too and then he won the Oceania TT. So it’s fair to say he’s really strong.
It’s only Rob Power’s first year but he’s unbelievably talented. It’s quite ridiculous actually. One more year of experience racing in Europe and he’ll be incredibly hard to beat. Since we’ve arrived he’s already had some really good results and he’s only going to get stronger and more race savvy as the season goes on.
As for me, I’ve just moved into a new apartment in Varese after living at the AIS base in Castronno last year. In fact, no-one really lives at Castronno anymore — they’re all down by the lake in Gavirate. I’m living by myself here in Varese but it’s much better than last year. There really wasn’t much going on in Castronno — there was a gelati shop across the road but that was about it. Varese is no Milan, but there’s actually a bit happening around town, which makes for a nice change.
Simon Clarke from Orica-GreenEDGE actually helped me find my apartment. He lives about 100 metres down the road and he was good enough to check it out for me while I was back in Australia. He hasn’t been home since I moved in but hopefully I’ll catch up with him soon. He’s been really good to me.
I’ve only been in the new place for a week or so, since I got back from racing the U23 Tour of Flanders, so I’ve spent plenty of time unpacking and getting set up. I bought a few bits of furniture from Ikea and building that has been keeping me busy. Since I crashed at the Tour of Flanders a bit over a week ago I haven’t been able to ride.
I was feeling really good during the race, which surprised me. We went over some of the course (the cobbled climbs in particular) a few days before the race and I was thinking “I shouldn’t have come here”. I haven’t raced on the cobbles much and small riders just get bounced around a lot compared to bigger guys.
— Caleb Ewan (@CalebEwan) April 12, 2014
So I went into the race feeling a bit negative but once I was there I felt fine. I was going really well and I was over the top of the hardest climbs in the top five every time. But then we got to the sprint.
I was boxed in on the right barrier and I saw an opportunity to go down the right-hand side and past the guy that was in front of me. If I wanted to win the race then I really had to take that option.
In a sprint you can’t really have thoughts like “oh, I might crash”. It’s just instinct — you have to go and do it. You always know it’s going to be a bit risky but you’re not necessarily thinking it — you’re more focused on winning.
I’m not sure if it was intentional or not but the rider I was trying to overtake drifted to the right slightly which forced me into the barriers and down I went at over 60km/hr. I was in a fair bit of pain laying there on the road but I think what hurt the most was coming so close to a result in a race that I didn’t see myself doing great in. I also feel bad for my teammates sacrificing their own chances in the race for me when each one of them could go extremely well if they rode for themselves.
I’ve got a pretty big gash on my ankle — I’m not sure if that’s from another rider’s bike, my own bike or something else. But I was lucky to not be more seriously injured. I went to hospital and got a bunch of stitches but was out of there in a few hours.
[Ed. For more photos of what happened at the U23 Tour of Flanders and an audio transcript of Caleb's recollections, head over to Ride Media.]
Do crashes like that make me tentative in future sprints after knowing what can happen? I don’t think so — I’m never really thinking about crashing. To win races you have to take risks. There’s risk involved in every sprint, even if you get a perfect lead-out there’s still risks. If you don’t take risks you can’t move up through the gaps and if you don’t do that you won’t be in a position to win bike races.
Besides, the Flanders crash wasn’t the worst I’ve had. I had one about this time last year when something similar happened. The rider in front definitely cut me off on purpose — he moved over about two metres extremely quickly. He took me out and because it was raining I slid across the road and into the barriers. I was off the bike for two weeks.
Thankfully this time I only had to be off the road for a week. I did a couple of easy ergo sessions and then it was back on the road earlier this week to start training again.
As I wrote in my last diary entry, the Tour Down Under (my first WorldTour race) had been a steep learning curve. So far I’ve only had three races to put some of the things I learned there into practice in the U23 races.
The most important thing I learned is simply being in the right position. As a rider you always know that you need to be in a good position but once you get to the WorldTour you aren’t going to get far if you aren’t in the right places at the right time. In many of the U23 races you can go and sit down near the back for half the race and you’ll be fine. It’s a different story in the WorldTour.
My U23 teammates Brad Linfield and Campbell Flakemore also rode the Tour Down Under and between the three of us I think we’ve helped to get the team riding better positions. Everyone knows that if they’re going to take that step up to the WorldTour they are always going to have to ride good position. There’s nowhere to hide.
Overall I think the team is riding a lot better than we were last year. We’re all a year older, a year stronger and a lot more organised.
So what’s next for me? All my training after the Tour Down Under was focused on the three classics we U23s have — the Tour of Flanders, La Cote Picardie (which I won last year) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. After my crash at Flanders I’ll miss the other two which is frustrating.
I was also keen to do Le Tour de Bretagne, a week-long tour in north-west France but I won’t be able to do that either. So my next race will be the Olympia’s Tour in the Netherlands which starts on May 12. Between now and then I’ll be training around Varese, trying to build up as much form as I can. Hopefully I haven’t lost too much over the past week.
And finally, people often ask me what sort of races I’d like to try and win once I step up to the WorldTour and have a few years of racing under my belt. I’m not 100% sure just yet but watching Philippe Gilbert ride away to win solo at Amstel Gold the other day I thought to myself “it would be such a good feeling to be able to do that”. Also to see an Australian and future teammate in Simon Gerrans win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday is pretty inspiring. Id love to win classics like this one day but I don’t think it’ll be in the near future.
I know the cobbled classics probably don’t suit me, but the Ardennes just might. But we’ll have to see. It’s a pretty big jump up from the U23s — those classics are pretty much 100km longer than the races I’m doing at the moment.
Thanks for reading!