The former runner turned cyclist had been bagging Strava KOMs over the summer but was doing so without a contract for 2018. A lifeline came via the new Continental Australian Cycling Academy, with Ovett's connections to the Sunshine Coast helping seal the deal.
On his debut with the squad, the 24-year-old was quick to repay the faith placed in him by team managers Ben Kersten and Matt Wilson with 10th place overall at the Herald Sun Tour.
"Obviously, I am climbing well but you don't know how you are going to fair in a race of that length," Ovett told Cyclingnews of his seventh-place ride up Lake Mountain on stage 3 to set up his GC result. Eighth place on stage 4 then secured his best overall result to date.
"I was on top of my nutrition and the team was fantastic looking after me all day. I suffered to the end and was super pleased to finish in a group of climbers of that calibre. Some of the guys are world class, and it was a bit of breakthrough for me."
Collapsing off his bike once over the finish line, Ovett explained of the 20-kilometre climb the following day that "I don't think I have been deep for that long." While Ovett was making headlines and generating discussion on social media due to his Strava rides, racing is the priority, the emotion of the Sun Tour trumping Strava notifications.
"At the end of the day, racing is all that matters. I am stoked I could have the result I did yesterday, and that means a billion times anything more than a '1 in 20' KOM," he said in reference to the Melbourne climb he conquered last month.
Signed to SEG Racing Academy for 2016, Ovett aged out the development team in 2017 but found a home with the Caja Rural–Seguros RGA development team. The aim was that a step down would facilitate a move into the professional ranks. A lack of publicity for non-Spanish riders proved detrimental to his aims, as Ovett pointed out. But publicity was not the only factor Ovett was up against in season 2017, as he explained.
"One of my teammates went positive and it is happening for sure. I didn't see anything personally, but there is a history there," he said of the amateur-racing scene and former teammate Manuel Sola's AAF. "There are guys doing some pretty exceptional things that make you wonder, but at the end of the day, all I can do is worry about myself. I know I am doing everything right. I am clean, I am training hard, I am eating well and I am looking after all the little things.
"As far I am concerned, if I am doing all those things I am going to be competitive with anyone. I showed that on Lake Mountain and I showed that all last year. If they want to do that, then that is up to them and they are going to deal with the consequences sooner or later - personally or with a ban."
Rather than reconsider his options and whether cycling is the sport for him, Ovett is committed to making it as a cyclist.
"There are lot more opportunities in cycling to have a career. You don't have to be the best guy. You can be in a team and do your job and have a career out of that. You can't do that in athletics," he said. "You don't have to be Esteban Chaves or Peter Sagan in order just to make a living."
However, at the Herald Sun Tour, Ovett was the best rider for the new Australian Cycling Academy team, emerging as its primary general classification rider. With the aim of stepping into the Pro Continental or WorldTour ranks next season, Ovett is focused on repeating his Herald Sun Tour performances and results as a minimum.
"I spoke with Ben and we said the goal has to be now to always finish in the front group when it comes to a climbing stage. That has to be the benchmark," said Ovett, who will split his year between Girona and the Sunshine Coast with a full race programme to be determined.
"That might not always happen, but from yesterday's result, I know I can do that so that has to be the expectation going into stages like that. If I can be consistent and be with those best guys, that is good enough for me and hopefully enough for bigger teams to take notice and give me a shot.
"I find that if you dig in, you always find a way. If you keep on persevering through ups and downs and I believe I can make that next step."
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