Caleb Ewan (NSW/Mitchelton-Scott) has confirmed his status as the king of Sturt Street Australia's best sprinter, beating Steele von Hoff (VIC/Bennelong SwissWellness Cycling Team p/b Cervelo) and Brenton Jones (VIC/Team Delko-Marseille Provence KTM) to secure his third consecutive national criterium title on day one of the 2018 Fed Uni Road National Championships in Ballarat.
"The feeling of winning never really gets old," exclaimed the 23-year-old following his victory. "It is good to get the year off to a good start again."
After spending most of the race at the rear of the peloton, Ewan perfectly timed his move forward perfectly. "I like to sit at the back and see how it is being raced and where the hard parts are on the circuit," he explained. "I sat back and observed for a little bit, and then I made my way to the front – it was game on from there."
Ewan, who has won two Grand Tour stages with Mitchelton-Scott during his career, paid credit to his team-mates for their impressive lead-out effort. Despite the World Tour team being outnumbered by 13-rider strong Bennelong SwissWellness, polished performances from Alexander Edmondson (SA) and Luke Durbridge (WA) left Ewan perfectly-placed for the sprint finish.
"This is the strongest team we have had since I turned pro and started racing the elite crits,” he said. “It was always going to be hard to beat some of the bigger teams here, so they did so well."
After finishing second last at the 2017 road race, Ewan was hopeful better weather conditions on Sunday could help him replicate his 2015 podium placing. “The course is usually too hard for a sprinter, but if there is a head wind up the climb then it is easier,” he said. “The first year I did it there was a head wind and I came second; the past two years it has been a tail wind and I have been dropped both times. It really depends on the conditions for how well I can go.”
Victorian von Hoff was pleased to add a criterium silver to his palmares, which already includes two national criterium crowns from 2014 and 2015. “Brenton, Caleb and I have all been on the podium together quite a few times now,” the 30-year-old laughed. "We always find each other on the final corner."
Following six years in Europe with Garmin-Sharp, NFTO and most recently ONE Pro Cycling, von Hoff has returned to Australia to rejoin his first-ever team, National Road Series powerhouse Bennelong SwissWellness (then Torq Performance Nutrition) for 2018. "It is fantastic for myself to be back with such a good squad with Bennelong SwissWellness, to race with the guys again and be under the guidance of Andrew Christie-Johnson. It is such an honour, I am just so happy to be back. it shows in the results – I am already back fighting."
For Jones, meanwhile, third place was a repeat of last year as he was unable to outsprint the flying Ewan. "He's a hard man to beat on this Ballarat Sturt Street course," Jones admitted.