Australian pro cyclist Caleb Ewan isn’t the biggest name in bike racing, but the 22-year-old on the Orica-Scott team has been drawing a lot of attention as a rising star with a radical aerodynamic sprinting position.
The 5-foot-5 rider from Sydney, nicknamed the Pocket Rocket, has a sprinting style unlike that of any other: He leans his torso far over his handlebar and puts his head way down — not far from his front wheel — creating a strikingly extreme aero position.
This video from CyclingTips shows Ewan sprinting to victory at the Tour Down Under:
Whereas his rivals position themselves higher to generate more power, Ewan goes lower for less aerodynamic drag.
This is what he looks like from the front:
And in a field sprint at 40 mph:
The aero edge
“It’s basically an aero sprinting position,” Ewan told Cycling Weekly. “Now, in this era when there are so many good sprinters, you need to find a little bit of an edge wherever you can, and I’ve found that in an aero sprint.”
“It seems to work all right for now, but obviously you can’t get as much power out in that position as you would if you’re in more of an upright position. I guess it’s a trade-off.”
In this shot, you can see Ewan’s head coming down low over his bars as he hits top speed:
Ewan says he hasn’t always sprinted this way, explaining that he went into a wind tunnel and tried different positions but found his current position was the most aerodynamic.
CyclingTips asked a researcher at Perth’s Edith Cowan University how much of an advantage Ewan’s extreme position really gave him.
“In practical terms, a 10% reduction in frontal area (CdA) can result in more than three metres advantage over a 14-second sprint,” Paolo Menaspa said. Added CyclingTips: “In a tight sprint, three metres could be the difference between 10th place and victory.”
Ewan told Cycling Weekly: “It was actually hard to sprint in this position, so I had to practice a bit.” Asked how it is that he doesn’t fall over his handlebar, Ewan said: “To be honest, it doesn’t feel like I’m that far over the font as much as it looks. It feels kind of comfortable. When I’m down on the bike, it doesn’t feel that unnatural.”
It can be ‘pretty scary’
Some observers have questioned whether Ewan’s extreme position is safe.
That is, because he’s so “front-heavy,” is he sacrificing control of his rear wheel and therefore his bike?
On the opening stage of the Giro on Friday, it appeared as if Ewan’s rear wheel was sliding around:
Ewan said in a video for team sponsor Scott Sports posted in June 2016:
“This position now that I go in, it’s pretty scary because you’re so close to the front wheel. And that was the hardest part — trying to put power out while you’re in that position, because it’s really low and quite front-heavy.”
Ewan is multi-time Australian champion, and he has won stages in the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Spain, among other achievements.
He was second on stage one of the Giro on Friday, after a late solo breakaway spoiled the finish for the sprinters. On Saturday he missed another opportunity to win after his pedal came unclipped in the finishing sprint.
Ewan’s extreme aero position is reminiscent of the Isle of Man’s Mark Cavendish’s style, but not even the Manx Missile gets quite as low as Ewan.
You can hear Ewan talk about his radical position in the video below:
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