Caleb Ewan has started his highly anticipated return to Team Jayco AlUla in the best way possible, winning the 2024 Federation University RoadNats Ballarat elite men’s criterium on Sturt St.
Team Jayco AlUla entered with the most firepower and were tactically flawless on the final laps, with last year’s winner Kelland O’Brien positioning Ewan perfectly to launch his sprint and sprint away with the win ahead of Jensen Plowright (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Sam Welsford (BORA – hansgrohe).
Ewan’s victory marks his fourth Australian elite men’s criterium crown, six years after he fired off three successive national titles from 2016 to 2018.
“It’s amazing to be back in the team and I really wanted to start the year really well and that was going to be here at the crit,” Ewan said.
“I was super nervous before the race to be honest, I felt like a kid racing again, but the team did an amazing job – we rode quite aggressively.
“In the end when we knew no breaks were going away, we set up for a sprint.
“I think it’s a good thing (to be nervous).
“When you’re nervous it means you care and it’s your body getting ready for whatever is coming up so it was good to feel it again and it’s good to have the arms in the air again.”
The elite men’s hour-long criterium played out as a cagey affair, with smaller teams and individual riders choosing to let Team Jayco AlUla dictate the flow of the race.
At one point, Ewan himself was allowed to jump away at the front of the race on his own, with the bunch electing to gamble on calling Team Jayco AlUla’s bluff.
With 10 laps to go, the race entered a new phase under the impetus of Ben Carman (St George Continental), Lucas Hamilton (Team Jayco AlUla) and Elliot Schultz (Team BridgeLane).
Very quickly the next surge was on from the main bunch, led by O’Brien, who lined out the diminished bunch.
No further attacks would come in the closing laps, with O’Brien returning to the front on the back straight as a lead-out for Ewan for the final corner. From there, it was all Ewan.
Attention now turns to the road race national championships on Sunday for Ewan, who said he was eyeing the double and a title that has eluded him his whole career.
“That’s the one I really have my eye on,” Ewan said.
“It looks like it’s going to be quite hard with the weather, with a bit of a headwind on the climb, but that suits me.
“So, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll recover after this and hopefully Sunday I can do the double.
“The race really needs to go a certain way for me to win, but my legs feel good.”
Elite Men Criterium
Caleb EWAN (Team Jayco AlUla)
Jensen PLOWRIGHT (Alpecin-Deceuninck) +0
Sam WELSFORD (BORA - hansgrohe) +0
Dylan HOPKINS (Ljubljana Gusto Santic) +0
Liam WALSH (Team BridgeLane) +0
Tristan SAUNDERS (Team BridgeLane) +2
Patrick DRAPAC (Brunswick CC) +2
Daniel BRAUNSTEINS (Hawthorn CC) +2
Blake QUICK (Team Jayco AlUla) +5
Brendon GREEN (Cycling Development Foundation) +5