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Caleb Ewan, far right, and fellow sprint Fabio Jakobsen make the time cut on stage 10 of last year’s Tour, but Ewan was out of the race three days later, with a war of words then erupting from team management (Photo: Pauline Ballet)

Caleb Ewan has lifted the lid on how and why he “fell out of love” with Lotto Dstny, specifically saying his relationship with the new general manager of the team, Stéphane Heulot, was very poor from the start and then worsened.

Ewan said he was warned about Heulot when news broke just over a year ago he was taking over as general manager at the team from John Lelangue, who signed Ewan in 2018.

Heulot (52) is a former French national road race champion, and held the yellow jersey in the Tour de France in 1996, before taking a series of performance and management jobs in cycling teams.

He was appointed general manager of Lotto Dstny at the start of the 2023 season and Ewan said he had “never heard of him” before his appointment was announced.

Stéphane Heulot on his appointment as general manager of Lotto Dstny in advance of the 2023 season, but the former Tour de France yellow jersey and sprinter Caleb Ewan would soon clash

The popular Australian sprinter then said Heulot set about denying him a place in harder races he needed to compete in to prepare for the Tour de France last year. As a result, Ewan says, when he went to the Tour he struggled deeper into the race and abandoned.

Once he exited the Tour, Heulot made a series of disparaging statements about Ewan in the media, saying the way he rode was “disrespectful” to the team mates trying to help him.

“I can’t do anything, it’s up to him to sort it out, I don’t know how to handle this kind of character, I’ve never seen that,” Heulot said of Ewan at the time. “He asks for a lot from his team, it’s a lot for him, always for him.”

Ewan has now said he started last year under pressure after “a pretty average season” in 2022, meaning he “already had a lot of pressure to get back to the level I wanted to be at”.

Ewan winning stage 11 of the 2020 Tour de France, but when the wins were harder to come by and management changed at the time, the Australian found himself very much out of favour (Photo: Alex Broadway)

His cause wasn’t helped by a number of sprints in which he finished 2nd and was beaten by the narrowest of margins early last year.

“And then as you go on through the season; another race, no win, another race, no win. The pressure starts building from myself because I know ‘shit I need to win’”, he told The Cycling Podcast.

“And then from the team as well, they’re like ‘hey, why aren’t you performing?’ I know that there were comments in the team, like, ‘he doesn’t win for how much he gets paid’ and things like that.

“And that’s annoying because obviously I’m trying to win. I want to win more than they want me to win,” he said, added if the wins didn’t come, it was his career that was damaged while the team could simply sign another sprinter.

Ewan said while the team wanted him to the ride the Tour de France, he was sent to the Tour de Hongrie, a series of smaller one-day races in Belgium and then the Tour of Belgium to prepare.

He said he told the team he needed harder races before the Tour and want to ride Critérium du Dauphiné but Heulot refused.

Ewan said when he first joined the team, management was very supportive of him and allowed him ride whatever races he needed to prepare for the Tour. But when Heulot took on the top job at the start of last year, that support and freedom was effectively withdrawn.

“I’d never heard of him in my life, to be honest,” Ewan said of Heulot. “The first time I ever heard of him was when the team announced he was coming on board.

“I know a French journalist really well, a guy that I stayed with when I was a junior in France… And he knows Stefan really well and he warned me about him.

“But I had to make my own opinion, I didn’t want to have somebody else’s opinion of him. But Stefan and I just never saw eye to eye and that’s that,” he said, adding he and the team “fell out of love”.

Ewan said he then abandoned the Tour on stage 13 after being the first rider dropped on three consecutive mountain stages. He added his team mates were waiting for him, which was unfair to them, especially when his condition was so poor.

“At the end of the day I was just fucked,” he said of having to leave the Tour, at which point Heulot starting hitting out at him, with Ewan’s agent responding saying his rider wouldn’t be intimidated.

“I woke up every day to some new s*** that Stefan said, and I was like ‘this is shit, i just hate it’”.

However, despite some reports claiming Ewan was considering retirement after leaving the Tour, he has said that was never the case. He has since signed with Team Jayco AlUla and was very hopeful of getting back to winning ways this year.

He believed 2024 would be a “rebuilding” year and as fellow sprinter Dylan Groenewegen was already in Jayco AlUla, Ewan said he was happy for the Dutch rider to choose what races he want to ride.

Ewan would then ride an alternative programme. That means, for example, that Ewan will do the Giro and Groenewegen will ride the Tour.

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