When newly crowned Australian men's National Criterium Champion Steele von Hoff rolls to the start of the People's Choice Classic in Adelaide to kickoff the weeklong Santos Tour Down Under, the 26-year-old sprinter for Garmin-Sharp will do so wearing the green and gold jersey for the first time.
The Victorian native from Mornington, who took advantage of a last-lap crash from the Drapac Cycling train to capture his first national championship after finishing second the year before, says he is looking forward to tonight's 25-lap, 50km circuit.
"I am pretty excited to be wearing the colours tonight," he told Cyclingnews on Sunday afternoon. "I don't get too many opportunities this year to wear the jersey so this is my biggest one."
According to von Hoff, the jersey represents a dream come true. "It's a huge honour to be in that jersey," said von Hoff, who still has his sights set on a national road race title. "It means you are the national champion and best at what you do in that discipline. I have always wanted to win this jersey and I couldn't be happier."
However a win at the People's Choice Classic will not be easy with the likes of 4-time Tour de France stage winner Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and 14-time TDU stage winner Andre Greipel of Lotto-Belisol on deck for his sixth to Australia's grandest race.
"There are other teams with such great lead-out trains, so someone like myself on a team with such major GC aspirations won't get much support," said von Hoff. "So to get to the finish line I will look to Lotto, Giant-Shimano and Orica-GreenEdge.
"There are a few corners quite close to the finish," he explained further. "I need to try to get into position before those corners. Basically you will have to be top three coming out of those corners otherwise you are not going to contest for the win."
Although the People's Choice Classic is not an official UCI event, von Hoff feels that a win would set him up for the remainder of the year and provide his team some much needed publicity. "It would be absolutely fantastic to win," he said. "The Tour Down Under is against a world-class field and winning it would be just as good as getting a podium in a UCI race."
Other than the criterium, von Hoff is eyeing stage one as another potential opportunity for himself to shine.
"For me personally, stage one is a really good stage," he said. "I've looked at the profile and it really quite suits me if I can get over [Menglers Hill] the finish is slightly uphill and I don't believe Kittel will be featuring on a tough finish like that. It might also take the sting out of Greipel's legs as well and I am climbing quite well so it will suit someone like myself or Orica's Michael Mathews coming down to the line, or even Simon Gerrans."
The status of stage one is still in doubt with an outbreak of bushfires threatening the Barossa Valley. Tour Down Under race director Michael Turtur told reporters on Saturday that a final decision would be made on Monday by 5pm. At no time in the race's 16-year history has any stage in the Tour Down Under been altered, postponed or cancelled.
"I won't be too happy about that," said von Hoff on a possible cancellation. "But I completely understand that precautions must be made for the safety of the riders and the spectators and it's not worth the risk of potentially endangering people's lives."
With Garmin-Sharp focusing its efforts on Rohan Dennis as its general classification contender, von Hoff contends he will be allowed to freelance and pick his spots to get a result rather than sacrificing teammates needed for Dennis' podium run.
"Jack Bauer and Nathan Haas may be able to help me get into position before the finish, but we are all focused on getting Rohan, or any other Garmin-Sharp riders, to the finish on top," von Hoff concluded. "This is not about me, and I want to serve my team.
"Last year Jack Bauer was on GC and quite often I was his last man trying to pull him into place such as the Willunga Stage when I rode him straight into the bottom of the hill," he concluded. "On the Corkscrew [Hill] I was his last man to put him into position before the final climb so I will definitely serve a team role, but make no mistake I will take advantage of an opportunity if it presents itself and that could be tonight."