Criterium du Dauphiné the season goal for young Australian
For last year's winner of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour Calvin Watson (Trek Factory Racing), the opportunity to defend his title arose due to withdrawals from the KordaMentha Australian team and the Jayco U23 Team, and he takes his place on the start line with the number one dossard.
Having made his debut with his WorldTour team at the Tour Down Under, Watson was given the chance to change his kit from black to white for the race, which has stepped up a level since claiming the overall win on his 20th birthday.
"The race this year is completely different scenario to last year, obviously the field is a lot higher quality so there are no easy stages this year so it's been pretty chaotic racing and pretty stressful but I'm enjoying the tour and I'm happy to be back here," Watson told Cyclingnews.
It was on the climb up Mt Alexander that the race came alive and in the descent Watson was one of the many riders who found the heat and hard racing tough.
"It was really hard yesterday, I think everyone was suffering in that last 20km. I know that personally, I was cramping with 5km to go, so I didn't really have anything to work with so I was struggling in the finish there but I think everyone was in the same boat. The heat out there was just really crazy."
The race will come down to the triple-ascent of Arthur's Seat on the Mornington Peninsula on Sunday afternoon, with the Amy's Ride Grand Fondo taking place prior to the stage ensuring large crowds on the slopes of the climb.
"Tomorrow is going is to be the day when all the fireworks happen and the overall is shaped and whether Simon [Clarke] is strong enough to win, we'll have to see tomorrow."
"I'm going to give it a crack tomorrow, I've been saving myself for much of the week just trying to give myself the best opportunity to give it a go tomorrow but I'll have to see how the legs are and if I have good legs then ill try to stay with the best guys and fight it out."
Having lost teammate Pat Shaw after today's stage, Watson is confident his teammates' abilities to deliver a surprise or two. "It's nice to be back here, no disrespect to the team, but it's not a super strong team. It's a team that's been put together with NRS [National Road Series] riders and a few other guys so it's not easy when you come together for just one race of the year.
"Everyone is doing a good job and I've been really impressed with how the boys have come together. I'm sure that tomorrow few guys in the KordaMentha squad will surprise a few people."
Watson begun his three continent racing schedule that he will contend with in his debut season in South Australia and if the race is anything to go by, he'll be a happy rider in October.
"The Tour Down Under was really a great race to get as my first race under the belt with the team and it was really special lining up with Jens [Voigt] and Franck [Schleck] in my first WorldTour race.
"It was a special occasion and I race I'll remember for many years, and I was really happy with how it all went so it was cool."
With the move over to Europe, Watson explained how chose France as his base. "I've set up home in Nice, as it was important for me to be around riders who I'm comfortable with and I've got good mentors in that area.
"For me that's important as I'm still young and I need to learn off guys who I have faith and trust in. Simon Gerrans has been a massive impact on me making the move to France. I think I can only be in safe hands when Simon is looking after me."
Part of adjusting to life in France and life in the WorldTour peloton is learning French, which is an off the bike season goal for Watson. "I speak better Italian than French but hopefully throughout the year I can learn French, but I do want to continue to speak Italian. I'm lucky that the main language of Trek is English so I'm not in a bad place."
Once his Australian racing is done and dusted, Watson heads over to Europe with the aim of peaking for June as he rides himself into top condition.
"After the Sun Tour I go back to Europe and start at the Tour of Catalunya, Romandie, Tour of California and Dauphiné. For me it's been a bit of a quieter start to the year, I haven't been preparing a huge amount to be in super condition in January but my goal is to be in top shape by Dauphiné so I'm on the right path."
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